Voters in six states face a total of 26 ballot measures in today's elections. Those we're watching closely here at NCSL include:
- personhood in Mississippi
- voter ID, also in Mississippi
- two popular referenda, one over a labor law change in Ohio, and one dealing with election day voter registration in Maine
- private liquor sales in Washington
Voters in Mississippi weigh in on three citizen initiatives today, a number that more than doubles the total number of initiatives to reach the ballot in state history. Previously Mississippi voters had considered only two initiatives, both proposing legislative term limits, and both rejected. Mississippi is the newest initiative state in the country, having adopted the process in 1992.
Two of the three initiatives on today's ballot are particularly interesting (the third, an eminent domain measure, is less controversial). Initiative 26 would define the word "person" to include "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof." It's similar to initiatives rejected by Colorado voters in 2008 and 2010. Initiative 26 is controversial because its full implications should it pass are unclear. There is speculation that certain forms of birth control would be illegal under Initiative 26, as would certain procedures involved in in vitro fertilization. Personhood initiatives are already circulating in hopes of landing on the 2012 ballot in Florida, Montana, Ohio and Oregon; victory in Mississippi today could help sustain momentum and aid fundraising efforts in these other states. CNN offers a thorough analysis of the debate in Mississippi.
Passage of Initiative 27 would make Mississippi the 31st state to require voters to present identification at the polls, and the eighth state to adopt a so-called "strict photo ID" requirement. Voter ID has been the hottest election issue around the country this year, with seven states enacting new voter ID laws this year and another 27 considering it. Learn more about voter ID here.
A popular referendum, also called a people's veto, is a petition-driven vote on a new law passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. Once a challenge is filed against a new law, implementation of the law goes on hold while its opponents gather petition signatures. If they gather enough valid signatures, implementation remains on hold pending a popular vote on the law. If voters uphold the law, it takes effect after the election. If they reject it, it never takes effect. Twenty-three states have a popular referendum process.
The popular referendum is used much less often than the citizen initiative -- since 2000, odd-year elections have featured an average of just 1.2 popular referenda, and even-year elections have had an average of 4.5 (note that six popular referenda are already qualified for the 2012 ballot, with one more currently in signature verification). The 2011 election features two popular referenda.
Voters in Maine will weigh in on Chapter 399 of the Public Laws of 2011. This law repealed election day registration, also called same-day registration or SDR. Opponents of this move didn't want to see SDR, the law in Maine since 1973, go away, so they launched a petition drive to nullify the new law. If a majority of Maine voters vote "yes" today on Question 1, they will veto the new law and SDR will remain in effect in Maine. If a majority vote "no," they'll be voting keep the new law that does away with SDR.
Ohio voters weigh in on SB 5 today. This is a new law regarding public employee labor union contracts, and labor supporters gathered enough signatures to trigger a popular vote on the new law. The election results on this one work in the opposite manner from Maine's though -- if a majority of Ohio voters vote "yes" on Issue 2 today, that has the effect of upholding SB 5's new public employee union policies. A majority "no" vote would veto SB 5, and Ohio's labor laws would remain unchanged from how they were before the Legislature passed SB 5 earlier this year.
Private Liquor Sales in Washington
This one might sound familiar to you. That's because Washington voters considered two very similar initiatives on the 2010 ballot. They rejected both. That's not uncommon when there are similar measures competing for votes on the same ballot -- voters are often unsure of the difference between the two measures, and tend to vote "no" because they understand the status quo better than the two proposals. This year's Initiative 1183 would require the state to stop selling spirits and allow private sales by June 1, 2012. Retailer Costco has poured more than $22 million into the yes on 1183 campaign, dwarfing the nearly $5 million they contributed to the yes on I-1100 campaign in 2010 and setting a new state record for initiative fundraising.
Stay Tuned for Election Results
Although NCSL's election coverage is lower-key in odd-year elections, we'll be up late tonight tracking both ballot measure and candidate election results and posting here as well as on our StateVote 2011 web page and on The Thicket. You can read about other measures on today's ballots in our 2011 ballot measures preview.