The focus during this election has primarily been on whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will win the presidential election. However, there are 176 state-wide ballot initiatives in 38 states that could have greater implications for people’s daily lives.The ballot initiatives in a few areas in particular are significantly more important for individual liberty than the winner of the presidential election.
1) Marijuana legalization
With marijuana legalization on the ballot around the country, it is quite evident that Americans are more frustrated than ever with the status quo of marijuana prohibition.
There are full legalization measures in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, and medical marijuana referendums in Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Montana. There are also local decriminalization referendums in several cities in Michigan.
Not only could such measures expand legal access to marijuana, they could also pose a significant challenge to federal marijuana prohibition. Prominent conservative supporters, such as Pat Robertson and Tom Tancredo, have maintained that prohibiting marijuana falls outside of the federal government’s power under the Constitution. If these measures pass, they could go a long way in undermining the failed drug war and helping to increase individual liberty.
2) Health care
Speaking of state challenges to federal laws, voters in Alabama, Florida, Montana, and Wyoming will decide whether to reject Obamacare’s mandate to buy health insurance. These measures would enable individuals in these states to choose whether or not they wanted to buy health insurance, rather than penalize them if they choose not to. These ballot initiatives also raise the issue of state nullification of federal law by directly challenging the Affordable Care Act. If they pass, they could further raise the issue of states’ rights under the Tenth Amendment.
3) Tax limits
Taxpayers are growing increasingly weary of unchecked growth in government spending and tax rates, as reflected in several ballot issues that would impose limits on tax increases. Voters in Washington and Michigan will consider initiatives that require a two-thirds legislative majority to increase taxes. In Florida, voters will decide whether to limit tax revenues based on inflation and population growth. In New Hampshire, voters will have an opportunity to ban a state income tax, though it currently does not have one.
Overall, these measures could limit state governments’ ability to raise taxes.
4) School choice
Both Georgia and Washington stand poised to increase the opportunities to open charter schools. Georgia’s Amendment 1 would allow the state legislature to establish charter schools, even if local school boards object. Washington currently has no charter schools, though Initiative 1240 would give it the authority to establish them. In addition, Florida voters could reject the state’s Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the use of state funds at religious institutions. Florida’s Amendment 8 would remove this previous restriction, which could then pave the way for the use of school vouchers at any private school, regardless of religious affiliation.
Such measures could increase parental autonomy and improve school choice opportunities.
5) Marriage equality
Voters in four states will decide whether or not to recognize same-sex marriage. Referendums in Maryland and Washington enable voters to decide whether to maintain previously enacted legislation recognizing same-sex marriage. In Maine, voters will decide whether or not to end the state’s current ban on gay marriage recognition.
In contrast, a Minnesota amendment could define marriage as between one man and one woman, basically banning same-sex marriage in the state. If the measures in Maryland, Washington, or Maine pass, they would mark “the first time gay marriage recognition survived a state-wide vote” while also increasing marriage equality.
Considering how few substantial differences there are in the policies championed by President Obama and former Governor Romney, these ballot issues will likely have a far greater impact on people’s lives and liberty. If they pass, they could decrease government involvement in personal issues. And less government is just what the doctor ordered.