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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. There is a lot at stake this November, including control of Congress and the White House. Important questions will also be decided at the state level. Ballot initiatives will allow voters across the country to speak out on a range of issues.

In a moment, we'll hear about some of the big fiscal questions up for debate, but first, NPR's Joel Rose reports on some controversial social issues on the ballot this fall.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The anticipation around Referendum 74 in Washington State has been building all year.

SENATOR ED MURRAY: (Unintelligible), welcome to the other side of the rainbow.

ROSE: In February, supporters cheered when lawmakers in Olympia voted to legalize same-sex marriage, led by state Senator Ed Murray, who is openly gay.

MURRAY: No matter what the future holds, nothing will take this moment in history away from us.

ROSE: But, four months later, the day before the law was set to take effect, opponents of same-sex marriage filed enough signatures to block the measure until the public can vote on it in November. Joseph Blackholm is leading the effort to preserve the traditional definition of marriage.

JOSEPH BLACKHOLM: We are now the policymakers. The legislature gave their input, but now the people are the policymakers and we have to ask ourselves some tough policy questions, but recognizing that the current definition of marriage works and has worked.

ROSE: Same-sex marriage is currently legal in six states and the District of Columbia. Every time the idea has been put to a public referendum before, it's been defeated, but supporters think this year may be different. Similar questions are also on the ballot in Maryland and Maine.

In California, activists are hoping for a change of heart when it comes to the death penalty.

JEANNE WOODFORD: I'm Jeanne Woodford. I started at San Quentin State Prison as a correctional officer in 1978.

ROSE: Jeanne Woodford is a former warden at San Quentin, where she presided over four executions. Now, Woodford is leading the campaign to abolish the death penalty in California. She's featured in this video, which is posted on YouTube.

WOODFORD: California, in my opinion, is ready to replace the death penalty because we now know how costly it is and how ineffective the death penalty is.

ROSE: But supporters of capital punishment say the real problem is the constant legal delays and appeals that make it more expensive than a sentence of life without parole.

End of life issues are also on the ballot in Massachusetts, where supporters of physician-assisted suicide are advocating for Question Number Two. Marcia Angell teaches ethics at Harvard Medical School. She appeared in April on WGBH television.

MARCIA ANGELL: This is just giving them the choice of controlling the manner of their death and of choosing, if they want, to have a slightly earlier and much easier death.

ROSE: Opponents of Question Number Two fear the law would encourage suicide when other options, including hospice or palliative care, are available.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Dear Dad, how should I say this? You know how you enjoy a drink after work? Well, in many ways...

ROSE: Finally, activists in Colorado, Washington and Oregon have high hopes for ballot initiatives that would legalize marijuana. Advocates in Colorado have started a campaign of YouTube videos to win over skeptics.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, in many ways, I'm just like you, but when I get home, I prefer to relax with marijuana instead of alcohol.

ROSE: No state has gone as far as legalizing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, as the Colorado initiative would do, but supporters there have been buzzing over polls that show support for the idea at more than 50 percent.

Joel Rose, NPR News.

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