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Same Sex Marriage, Stem Cell Research, Electoral College: An Overview of Ballot Initiatives Across the Nation

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While all eyes are focused on the presidential race, voters today will also be deciding on a number of different initiatives, referendums and recalls. We get an overview of the some of the propositions on ballots across the country. [includes rush transcript]

As millions of Americans across the country head to the polls on this Election Day, much of the attention is focused on the closely fought presidential election as well as a few key House and Senate races. But when voters hit the polls today they will also be deciding on a number of different initiatives, referendums and recalls that will appear on the ballots.

In California, Proposition 71 would establish a constitutional right to conduct stem cell research and raise $3 billion.

In Colorado, Amendment 36 would allocate the state’s nine electoral college votes proportionally to each candidate’s popular vote instead of giving them all to the statewide winner.

In Arizona, Proposition 200 would require all residents of the state to prove they are citizens to receive any public services and to vote.

But the most popular topic this election year is marriage, with 13 states asking voters to decide if marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman.

In total, voters in 34 states will decide 162 ballot propositions.

  • John Matsusaka, President of the Initiative & Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. The Institute runs a website called BallotWatch that monitors ballot initiatives across the country. He is a professor at the Marshall School of Business & School of Law at USC and the author of the book “For the Many or the Few: The Initiative Process, Public Policy, and American Democracy.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to look at some of them with John Matsusaka. He is president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. The institute runs a website called ballotwatch that monitors ballot initiatives around the country. He is professor at Marshall School of Business & School of Law at U.S.C., and author of the book For the Many or the Few: The Initiative Process, Public Policy, and American Democracy. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JOHN MATSUSAKA: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you us with. Can you just quickly go through some of these initiatives? Let’s start with the one that is in a number of states, and that is the ban on same sex marriage.

JOHN MATSUSAKA: Sure. There are 11 states that will be voting on whether to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Two have already voted this year, approved it by huge majorities, Missouri and Louisiana. So there’s 11 states coming up today now. They’re all leading in the polls. Somewhat surprisingly, the opponents of these measures thought that Oregon, and possibly Michigan, they might be able to defeat these measures, but according to the latest polls from about a week or so ago, they’re all running ahead. One of the nationally interesting things about this going beyond the issue itself is what it might do to the presidential campaign, as well, because it’s thought that there might be — might have some effect on turnout, and the interesting thing is that the republicans believe that it would help them by bringing to the polls, you know, Christian conservative voters who are opposed to gay marriage, but what is interesting is that the demographic group that is most opposed to gay marriage is actually black voters. So, if it were to bring those voters to the polls, and they continue to vote for John Kerry, paradoxically or ironically, it could actually end up helping Kerry in the swing states like — hello? — like Ohio or Michigan.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. What about the ballot initiative in Colorado that would affect the presidential election today?

JOHN MATSUSAKA: Oh, another really interesting measure. As you mentioned just a moment ago, that measure would change the way that state’s electoral college votes are assigned. It would go from winner take all to proportional representation. It’s an attempt to reform the electoral college, in fact, to move away from this winner take all system to just, almost as a first step, to just a direct popular election of the president. What’s the twist in that measure is that it’s written to be retroactive. So, if it passed, it would immediately take some votes from the winner of Colorado and divide them up, essentially. So based on current polls, it would take four votes from George Bush and give them to John Kerry. The measure, however, it seems to be failing quite a bit. It was doing extremely well a month ago. I think it’s tapping into a real undercurrent of support for reforming the electoral college, but it’s facing — I think it’s boiling down to the fact that Bush voters would be turning over some of their electoral college votes, and they’re deciding they don’t want to do that now.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Prop 71 in California that would establish a Constitutional right to conduct stem cell research?

JOHN MATSUSAKA: Prop 71, $3 billion bond for stem cell research. It was running about even in the polls until Schwarzenegger stepped in favor of it to some people’s surprise, in favor of it, a week or so ago. The latest field poll shows that it’s actually running ahead now, about 53% in favor. So, that one is getting into the safe zone for passing.

AMY GOODMAN: Arizona Prop 200. On our website, people can hear the full debate when we spent time in Tucson and Phoenix and broadcast the program, but how is it doing at this point? Almost all major political figures up to John McCain, senator from Arizona, are opposed to it.

JOHN MATSUSAKA: Yes. So, that’s the measure that would — it’s kind of a version of California’s famous or infamous Prop 187 of a few years ago, which is trying to remove public services from illegal immigrants. The polls are showing that it is ahead. The latest polls from early October that we saw had 42 in favor, 29 against. But what is interesting about that is that there’s a large number of undecided voters. So undecided voters usually means bad news for a ballot proposition, because when people are not sure when they go into the polls, they say, you know, let’s just say no. I think that measure is going to be very close, and I would say it’s probably in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: There are many other ballot initiatives we cannot go into right now, but we will follow them, and we’ll talk about them in the coming days. John Matsusaka, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

JOHN MATSUSAKA: Thanks for having me on.

AMY GOODMAN: John Matsusaka, president of Initiative and Referendum Institute. The website, ballotwatch. This is Democracy Now!

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