Ballot Initiatives: Colorado Amendment 64, Washington I 502, and Other State Initiatives are Real Election Day Issues

Though the majority of news regarding the upcoming election has largely revolved around Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, little attention has been paid to the 176 initiatives that voters in 38 states will be deciding on November 6. Some of these initiatives bear important consequences for the citizens in the states in which they are being considered, as well as the American public as a whole.

While there are nearly 200 ballot initiatives that will be voted on, there are a few that are worth paying attention to. Here are some of the major ballot initiative topics I think are of particular importance:

Marijuana Legalization:

Three states, Washington, Colorado, and Oregon have ballot initiatives that would legalize marijuana and turn it into a controlled substance that would be heavily regulated and taxable by the state. These measures are particularly significant for those opposed to the drug war, for they directly defy federal law prohibiting marijuana for any use whatsoever, thus challenging federal law even beyond the 17 states that have passed medial marijuana initiatives in recent years. Here’s some polling data regarding the three marijuana legalization initiatives:

Washington: I-502

Polling data has consistently shown favor for I-502, making it the most likely state out of the three to pass. The most recent Survey USA/King 5 News poll showed I-502 winning with 55% in favor and only 36% opposed.

Colorado: Amendment 64

Polls from Colorado have consistently shown a higher percentage for those in favor versus those opposed, but the gap between the two has become tighter in recent weeks. An October 14 Survey USA poll has shown that Amendment 64 leads by 5 points, with 48% in support and 43% opposed, whereas it led by 11 points just five weeks ago. Additionally, the poll showed that support has weakened among women, those with 4-year college degrees, and upper-income voters. So, this essentially means that the outcome of Amendment 64 will be left entirely up to voter turnout on Election Day, leaving proponents of the measure on the edge of their seats.

Oregon: Measure 80

Oregon’s Measure 80 is the least likely of the three ballot initiatives to pass, and is also the least restrictive out of the three initiatives. A poll released October 29 by The Oregonian shows only 42% in favor of the measure, 49% opposed, and 9% undecided. It’s safe to say this measure is unlikely to pass, but still significant nonetheless.

Why these ballot initiatives are of particular importance:

If any of these ballot initiatives pass (which like I stated above, at least one is likely), it will have direct implications for the federal government. The question of how the federal government will respond will have huge implications for all Americans. Already, the federal government has begun cracking down on medical marijuana facilities, most notably in California, and will likely continue. While the federal government has been largely absent from the marijuana debate leading up to Tuesday’s election, the feds have definitely taken notice. U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole even told 60 Minutes that the federal government’s stance will not change. Regardless of the federal response to these initiatives, the legalization of marijuana in at least one state will serve as a catalyst for debate and criticism of the devastating and tragic effects of the drug war, if only on the topic of marijuana.

Charter Schools:

Washington and Georgia both have charter school initiatives on their ballots for November 6.

Georgia: Amendment 1

This ballot initiative would amend Georgia’s constitution, giving the state the authority to establish charter schools and other special schools. Currently, Georgia does not permit charter schools, but local school boards have the authority to reject charter petitions. The ballot initiative would create a commission that could overrule the school boards’ objections, but would not interfere with the approval, if a local school board were to do so.

Polls in Georgia currently show 47% of voters in favor of the Amendment, while only 37% are opposed.

Washington: Initiative 1240

Washington is currently one of the few states that doesn't have any charter schools. To rectify this, Initiative 1240 would allow 40 charter schools to open over the next five years. A recent poll shows support of the initiative at 47.5% and opposition at 39.2%.

These initiatives are important in opening up debate in places that haven’t already addressed the notion of school choice. School choice, which continues to gain support year after year, argues for more options for parents and children in light of failed performance statistics on behalf of public schools. 

Gay Marriage:

Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington are all voting on same-sex marriage recognition November 6. In Minnesota, voters will decide whether to ban gay marriage recognition. Polls have shown differing data, so it’s questionable how voters will cast their ballots on the initiative on Election Day. In Maine, voters will decide whether to continue the ban on same-sex marriage, which was approved in a 2009 referendum, or recognize it. Polls indicate support for gay marriage recognition in Maine is above 50%. Maryland and Washington voters will decide whether gay marriage recognition will remain law (state legislation has legalized it previously), but polls show support of both initiatives neck-and-neck with opposition, so it will ultimately be up to undecided voters on election day to decide. 

Same-sex marriage is currently recognized in six states. However, if Maryland, Washington, or Maine’s referendums pass, it will be the first time gay marriage passed a state-wide vote, which is important to note.

Like I noted above, there are many more important ballot initiatives that will be voted upon on Election Day, but these are three major initiative topics whose outcomes I think Americans should pay attention to come November 6. Given the little amount of attention either presidential candidate has paid to these topics, the outcome of these ballot initiatives will shed light on the fact that Americans care about more substantive issues, not solely about which presidential candidate they will be voting for.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Lauren Galik

I'm a free-thinking libertarian originally from Ohio, but living in Washington, D.C. I work at a non-profit as a policy analyst & specialize in criminal justice and government reform.

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