Five Social Issues On November Ballots

Aug 17, 2012
Originally published on August 17, 2012 6:03 pm

In addition to choosing a president and members of Congress, voters in several states will weigh in on high-profile social issues on Nov. 6. Here are some of the key voter initiatives on ballots:

1: Same-Sex Marriage
States: Washington, Maryland, Maine
State lawmakers in Washington and Maryland passed legislation this year to allow same-sex marriage, but both laws are on hold until the public gets a chance to vote them up or down in November. In every state where same-sex marriage has been put to a popular vote before, it's been defeated. But supporters think this year may be different. A similar question is on the ballot in Maine.

2: Abolish The Death Penalty
State: California
Opponents of the death penalty say it's costing the state too much; through Proposition 34, they want to replace it with a maximum penalty of life without parole, and direct $100 million a year to other law enforcement priorities. Supporters of capital punishment say the real problem is the constant legal delays and appeals that make the death penalty so expensive to enforce.

3: Physician-Assisted Suicide
State: Massachusetts
Supporters of physician-assisted suicide are advocating for Question No. 2, the so-called "Death with Dignity Act." They say it would allow terminally ill patients — defined as those who've been told they have less than six months to live — to choose the time and manner of their death. Opponents fear the law would encourage suicide when other options are also available.

4: Undermine Obamacare
States:
Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Montana
A host of ballot initiatives would attempt to undermine various provisions of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, better known as Obamacare. Ballot questions in Florida and Montana target the "individual mandate" — the part of the law that will require most Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. Opponents say it's a moot point because the Supreme Court has already upheld most of the controversial health care law.

5: Legalize Marijuana
States: Colorado, Oregon, Washington
Activists in Colorado, Washington and Oregon have high hopes for ballot initiatives that would legalize and regulate marijuana. More than a dozen states have approved marijuana for medical uses. None has gone as far as legalizing and regulating the drug like alcohol, as these initiatives would do. But a recent poll shows a majority of likely voters in Colorado support legalizing marijuana if it is regulated like alcohol, which the state's Amendment 64 provides for.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. There is a lot at stake this November, including control of Congress and the White House. Important questions will also be decided at the state level. Ballot initiatives will allow voters across the country to speak out on a range of issues.

In a moment, we'll hear about some of the big fiscal questions up for debate, but first, NPR's Joel Rose reports on some controversial social issues on the ballot this fall.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The anticipation around Referendum 74 in Washington State has been building all year.

SENATOR ED MURRAY: (Unintelligible), welcome to the other side of the rainbow.

ROSE: In February, supporters cheered when lawmakers in Olympia voted to legalize same-sex marriage, led by state Senator Ed Murray, who is openly gay.

MURRAY: No matter what the future holds, nothing will take this moment in history away from us.

ROSE: But, four months later, the day before the law was set to take effect, opponents of same-sex marriage filed enough signatures to block the measure until the public can vote on it in November. Joseph Blackholm is leading the effort to preserve the traditional definition of marriage.

JOSEPH BLACKHOLM: We are now the policymakers. The legislature gave their input, but now the people are the policymakers and we have to ask ourselves some tough policy questions, but recognizing that the current definition of marriage works and has worked.

ROSE: Same-sex marriage is currently legal in six states and the District of Columbia. Every time the idea has been put to a public referendum before, it's been defeated, but supporters think this year may be different. Similar questions are also on the ballot in Maryland and Maine.

In California, activists are hoping for a change of heart when it comes to the death penalty.

JEANNE WOODFORD: I'm Jeanne Woodford. I started at San Quentin State Prison as a correctional officer in 1978.

ROSE: Jeanne Woodford is a former warden at San Quentin, where she presided over four executions. Now, Woodford is leading the campaign to abolish the death penalty in California. She's featured in this video, which is posted on YouTube.

WOODFORD: California, in my opinion, is ready to replace the death penalty because we now know how costly it is and how ineffective the death penalty is.

ROSE: But supporters of capital punishment say the real problem is the constant legal delays and appeals that make it more expensive than a sentence of life without parole.

End of life issues are also on the ballot in Massachusetts, where supporters of physician-assisted suicide are advocating for Question Number Two. Marcia Angell teaches ethics at Harvard Medical School. She appeared in April on WGBH television.

MARCIA ANGELL: This is just giving them the choice of controlling the manner of their death and of choosing, if they want, to have a slightly earlier and much easier death.

ROSE: Opponents of Question Number Two fear the law would encourage suicide when other options, including hospice or palliative care, are available.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Dear Dad, how should I say this? You know how you enjoy a drink after work? Well, in many ways...

ROSE: Finally, activists in Colorado, Washington and Oregon have high hopes for ballot initiatives that would legalize marijuana. Advocates in Colorado have started a campaign of YouTube videos to win over skeptics.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, in many ways, I'm just like you, but when I get home, I prefer to relax with marijuana instead of alcohol.

ROSE: No state has gone as far as legalizing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, as the Colorado initiative would do, but supporters there have been buzzing over polls that show support for the idea at more than 50 percent.

Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.