Record Citizen-Written Ballot Initiatives Could Swing Election Results

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Voters will consider 76 citizen-written ballot initiatives on Election Day. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, this is the third largest number of initiatives on the ballot in almost 100 years. Some are predicting that with measures to increase the minimum wage on the ballot in six states and initiatives backing stem cell research ahead in many of the polls — the Democrats will gain votes this time around. [includes rush transcript]

On November 7th, voters will consider 76 citizen-written ballot initiatives. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, this is the third largest number of initiatives on the ballot in almost 100 years. In addition, state legislatures across the country have sponsored another 121 ballot questions that will be voted on next week. In 2004, Republicans tended to benefit from ballot initiatives. Some are predicting that with measures to increase the minimum wage on the ballot in six states and initiatives backing stem cell research ahead in many of the polls — the Democrats will gain votes this time around. Oliver Griswold is the Communications and Outreach Director for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. He joins us from Washington DC.

  • Oliver Griswold. Communications and Outreach Director for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Oliver Griswold is the communications and outreach director for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, joining us now from Washington, D.C. Welcome, Oliver.

OLIVER GRISWOLD: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about just the range of initiatives around the country?

OLIVER GRISWOLD: Yes. I think what you see, the overriding thing you’re seeing this year is that this is the first time progressives have really utilized a strategy through the initiative process, which is something that conservatives have done pretty well for years. Whether it’s the minimum wage or stem cell or repealing the abortion ban in South Dakota, you’re seeing progressives energize themselves around really professionalizing their approach to the initiative process. Those are the major progressive issues on the ballot this year. And if I could make one small correction, Missouri is the only initiative that has a stem cell initiative on the ballot, and that’s a right-to-research initiative, repealing a ban on that right that the Missouri legislature put through a couple years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s see, from the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, twelve states will consider property rights measures; eleven, education funding proposals; eight, vote on same-sex marriage bans; seven set to tackle smoking bans, rather tobacco-related issues; six will weigh minimum wage laws; three, of broad tax and spending limitations on their ballots; three will consider abortion-related measures. Let’s start there, on the three, the abortion issues.

OLIVER GRISWOLD: Well, I think what you’re seeing there is, first, we go to South Dakota, where the governor pushed through or passed a very draconian abortion ban in a clear attempt to use the court system, the litigation, against the ban to get all the way up to Roe v. Wade. The pro-choice activists in the state really rallied around — against this legislation and organized themselves very quickly to put a repeal of that ban on the ballot. And then, it’s funny, because in the increasing professionalization of initiatives, what you’re seeing is national groups using the initiative process. That’s not the case in South Dakota. This was a grassroots effort that the choice groups, national choice groups, sort of followed the South Dakota activists into the fray. In Washington — in Oregon, I’m sorry — and California, you have repeat initiatives to pass parental notification laws. Both states rejected similar initiatives in the past few years.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of same-sex marriage bans, this was used in 2004 to get out very conservative religious voters who would even more vote on an issue like this than vote for president, but once they were in the polling place, of course, they’re going cast their vote, and in the case of 2004 it would be for President Bush. Can you talk about these ballot initiatives?

OLIVER GRISWOLD: Absolutely. I think one of the myths that came out of 2004 was that gay marriage was a turnout issue. Our research has shown that it wasn’t strictly a turnout issue — that’s not to say that it did not help conservatives at the polls — but it produced what political scientists call a priming effect, which means that people who went to the polls anyway tended to vote more conservatively across the board, because of the presence of these initiatives.

In 2006, the landscape is much, much different for conservative candidates. There’s a general sense through initiatives and what you’re seeing in Congress that there has been a conservative overreach, and the polling on these issues is much, much tighter in 2006. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be tough fights for progressives who oppose these bans, but it’s a much, much different landscape this year.

AMY GOODMAN: So, same-sex marriage bans. Seven are set to tackle smoking bans and other tobacco-related issues. What are these?

OLIVER GRISWOLD: This is an interesting issue, because the tobacco industry has been out of the fray for a couple of years now, a number of years now, actually, not contributing very much to the fights against smoking bans and tobacco taxes that have really spread across the country in a number of states. This year, R.J. Reynolds has promised to put $40 million to oppose these bans, and what they are — the strategy they are doing is a sort of a confusion counterproposal strategy, which we’re seeing more and more in the initiative process, to put their own initiatives on the ballot to confuse voters into what is the real ban and what is a more toothless ban on tobacco.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the education funding proposals?

OLIVER GRISWOLD: Yeah, it’s funny. At the beginning of the year we noticed this really rigid conservative policy called the “65% solution,” that would mandate education and spending, quote/unquote, “in the classroom” be 65% of the education budget. That really slipped away, and that’s actually only on the ballot in one state: Colorado. And in many, many other states, you see a swing toward promoting public education. There’s a renewed sense of priorities around educating our children, keeping up in states. A lot of states feel like their education systems aren’t keeping up with others, and I think that has promoted this new push to adequately fund quality public education.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of the minimum wage, who is putting these initiatives on the ballot, and where are they being considered?

OLIVER GRISWOLD: These are being considered in Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Montana and Colorado. I hope I’m not missing any. And these are grassroots coalitions. They are sick to death of congressional inaction on this, and they have taken the matter into their own hands. I think what you’re seeing on this issue, as well as the stem cell issue, is a new values discussion, a progressive values discussion. There was an attempt, I think, by the right to copyright “values,” the word “values,” after 2004. We heard a lot about values voters. Those values, a lot of progressives feel, are divisive, cynical and, in a lot of cases, scapegoating, as you saw with the same-sex marriage bans. The values issue of the minimum wage is very popular. It polls at 80% nationally, and the fact that Congress has not acted on this issue in ten years has really put the wind in the sails of these initiative campaigns.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of universal healthcare in Massachusetts, what happened there?

OLIVER GRISWOLD: Well, it was going forward as an initiative, and the — in a bipartisan move, the legislature and the governor passed a weaker version of universal healthcare coverage, but once that happens, it usually sort of takes the wind out of the initiative campaign’s sails. It’s hard to make a distinction between policies in a sort of process argument when that happens.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue that — well, you categorize issues as the left and the right, those who are supporting them, taxpayer bill of rights. Can you talk about that?

OLIVER GRISWOLD: Yeah, the biggest, I would say, rightwing — and in fact it’s libertarian and pretty radical libertarian — strategy this year is what we at BISC call the three-headed monster of Howie Rich’s initiatives. Howie Rich is a real estate investor and Libertarian Party player from New York City, and he has spent millions through various shell organizations to put the taxpayer bill of rights, which is a really radical spending cap — they wanted to put that on in nine states. It’s actually on the ballot in three states, because it has been stripped from the ballot in multiple states for signature fraud and other rule-breaking. There are these pay-or-waive land use measures, which would allow me, if I wanted to put a hog farm in your neighborhood, to require you to pay for that, to change the zoning regulation. And finally, there are a pair of anti-judicial measures on the ballot in a couple states. This is by far the most unprecedented push to the ballot from out of state that we’ve ever seen. Your listeners and viewers can go to to find out more about this.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us, Oliver Griswold from BISC, which is Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington, D.C. We will link to the different initiatives on your website.

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