What’s Coming to Your Ballot This Fall?

Kristina Wilfore

This November, voters will be deciding whether to roll back equal-opportunity programs for women and people of color, discriminate against gays and lesbians in marriage and adoption, and threaten women's health care.

Republished from the Summer 2008 issue of Ms.
magazine
, now on newsstands.

If a
"definition of personhood" initiative gets passed in Colorado this November, you might be
investigated if you experience a miscarriage.

If an
initiative to end affirmative action is passed in Arizona this fall, you may lose business if
you’re a woman who receives government contracts.

If a
marriage-discrimination initiative passes in California and you’re a lesbian newlywed,
you’ll have to cut short the honeymoon.

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In the November election, voters will be deciding whether to roll back
equal-opportunity programs for women and people of color, discriminate against
gays and lesbians in marriage and adoption, cut public education and threaten
women’s health care. The big question is whether voters will buy what these
ballot initiatives are selling.

According to public opinion research conducted for the Ballot Initiative
Strategy Center
this year, voters are heading into the election season with serious concerns
about the country and a strong feeling that it is a rudderless boat. Perhaps
most disconcerting, voters feel America
is falling behind, and that the next generation is unlikely to have it better
than this generation does. The research also shows that voters want to address
the big problems the country faces.

Unfortunately,
many right-wing-backed ballot initiatives don’t give voters the solutions
they’re looking for. Instead, conservatives are using these initiatives as
divisive tactics to try to distract voters. A good example is California
businessman Ward Connerly’s efforts to roll back equal opportunity in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Connerly’s initiatives would rewrite state constitutions to ban
affirmative-action programs for women and people of color. But the drive for
these ballot measures does not necessarily come from within these states:
Connerly has been using mercenary signature-gatherers and funds collected by
his California
organization from undisclosed donors. To date, he’s failed to gain enough
support in Missouri to qualify for the ballot,
had to withdraw his petitions in Oklahoma
because of signature fraud and faces a lawsuit over 69,000 potentially
fraudulent signatures collected in Colorado.
In Arizona and Nebraska, Connerly has submitted his
petitions and is awaiting approval to place the initiative on the ballot.

In the
arena of women’s reproductive rights, the right wing is continuing its assault
this year with anti-choice ballot initiatives in four states: California,
Colorado, Montana
and South Dakota.
Californians are being asked to pass a parental notification measure that has
already failed twice; South Dakotans will be
asked to approve an only slightly less draconian version of an abortion ban
that failed in 2006. The "definition of personhood" initiative in Colorado-which
seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade by redefining personhood as the moment of
fertilization-could outlaw certain forms of birth control and ban or restrict
common fertility treatments in which multiple eggs are fertilized but only some
are introduced into the mother’s womb. A supporter of a similar, failed Montana initiative
suggested that women could even be investigated to see what they might have
done to cause their miscarriages.

Finally,
in California,
signatures have been submitted for an initiative that would rewrite the
constitution and overturn the recent court decision that ruled gay marriage was
constitutional. If passed, only marriage between a man and a woman would be
valid or recognized in California.
Some believe that this issue will put California
into play for John McCain in November by turning out conservative votes, but
progressives are energized to protect the court’s decision, and public opinion
continues to move against barring marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Arizonans,
too, will vote this fall on a constitutional gay-marriage ban, and Floridians face
a measure that would outlaw recognition of all same-sex partnerships. Still in
the signature-collection process is an Arkansas
initiative to take away adoption rights from "all unmarried couples"
(i.e., gay couples).

Progressive
women can feel hopeful about a number of other "kitchen table" initiatives on
the ballot this fall designed to help families weather the economic recession.
In Missouri,
for example, signatures have already been submitted for an initiative requiring
the state to produce 15 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by
2021. Research by the Ballot
Initiative Strategy
Center shows that voters
believe this is both achievable and necessary to free Americans from dependence
on foreign oil and reduce global warming.

Several
health initiatives are also either gathering signatures or have qualified for
the November ballot, responding to the anxiety of voters about losing health
insurance during these tough economic times. Montana
is circulating an initiative that would extend health-care coverage to all of
the state’s uninsured children, and in Wisconsin,
local health-care-reform referendums are moving forward that would ask the
legislature to take action on universal health care.

Additionally, a home-health-care initiative on the ballot in
Missouri would
help the elderly and disabled to continue living independently by better
recruiting, training and stabilizing the state’s home-care workforce. In Ohio, petitions are being circulated for a Healthy
Families initiative that would guarantee seven days paid sick leave, and in the
city of Milwaukee,
a similar measure extending paid sick leave is likely to make the ballot. Michigan activists are
stumping for an initiative allowing voters to restore the legality of stem-cell
research.

While the
country engages in a big national election, it’s important to remember that
"all politics is local." Be sure to come prepared with the facts about your
local initiatives, so that you know what sort of change you’re voting for.

For
more on information on state initiatives, see www.ballot.org.

 

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Ballot Initiatives 2008

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