Hot-Button Issues On State Ballots

Voters in 36 states faced 153 ballot measures. Gay marriage and abortion topped the list of hot-button issues, but measures affecting everything from energy to physician-assisted suicide were on state ballots.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Voters in three dozen states faced 150 ballot measures. NPR's John McChesney joins us with a look at the many referenda voters were asked to decide about. Good morning, John.

JOHN MCCHESNEY: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, a major hot-button issue: same-sex marriage. What happened and where?

MCCHESNEY: Well, we had the mother of all ballot propositions out here in California. Proposition 8 would amend the state constitution. And California had passed a ban on same-sex marriage back in 2000, only to see it overturned by the state's Supreme Court. And thousands of gay couples have been married in the state since that ruling. Early returns are showing the measure winning, but we're not quite sure where that's going to turn out. It's a very tight race. There are two other places where this was going on. In Arizona and Florida they both had ballot measures which would amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage, and both of those passed. And then in Arkansas, there was a measure of banning adoption by unmarried couples. And the conservatives there said the measure was aimed at gay couples. And it passed.

MONTAGNE: Access to abortion was on the ballot in South Dakota, Colorado, California; all very different ballot measures. Break it down for us what happened in these states.

MCCHESNEY: In South Dakota, you had a measure that would have banned abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or health threats to the mother. That went down 55 to 45 percent. Colorado had a measure that would have defined life as beginning at conception, and obviously that would have outlawed abortion. And that was soundly defeated. And in California, there was a measure that would have required parental notification before a minor could get an abortion. That seems headed for defeat as well.

MONTAGNE: And physician-assisted suicide was up for consideration in Washington state. It already exists in Washington state's neighbor, Oregon.

MCCHESNEY: Right. Oregon passed a similar law 11 years ago, and 341 people have taken advantage of that. Under the current measure in Washington, two doctors have to make independent assessments that a patient would have less than six months to live before that person could receive a lethal prescription, and it passed handily.

MONTAGNE: There were challenges to affirmative action as well.

MCCHESNEY: There were. In Nebraska, there was a bill that would end affirmative action. It passed rather handily. And there was also a measure in Colorado, exactly the same kind of measure as in Nebraska. It passed as well. Similar measures have been passed previously in California, Michigan, and Washington state.

MONTAGNE: And John, finally, let's not leave out chickens, in California at least.

MCCHESNEY: Chickens in California. They can't be confined to those closed cages anymore. They put a ballot measure up here in California that would give minimum space to not just chickens, but to calves and to pregnant pigs. But chickens were the big issue. And there were charges traded back and forth from both sides, the animal rights side saying salmonella would be spread because of the confinement of these chickens, and then the chicken farmers came back and said salmonella would be spread because they'll be importing chicken eggs from Mexico.

MONTAGNE: Although - and also the farmers suggested that food prices would go way up. And California being a big food-producing state, this has potential national implications.

MCCHESNEY: Right. Primarily egg prices. And two other states have passed very similar laws - Florida and Arizona - and food prices haven't shot up there. So we'll watch the price of eggs here in California and see what happens.

MONTAGNE: NPR's John McChesney, thanks very much.

MCCHESNEY: Thank you, Renee.

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