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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In addition to choosing their representatives, voters got to decide on specific issues and ballot initiatives across the country. They range from stem cell research to same-sex marriage to limits on abortion.

And NPR's Julie Rovner has been covering them all. Good morning, Julie.

JULIE ROVNER: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let's start with South Dakota, where there was a proposal that would ban virtually all abortions in the state. What happened?

ROVNER: Well, it went down fairly resoundingly by about 10 points. The fact that it went down was not all that unexpected. Polls had showed that the nos were outpacing the yeses pretty much all summer. What was surprising is that it ended up on the ballot at all. This was passed, a law passed by the legislature last February, intended fairly specifically as a court challenge to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's 1973 abortion ruling.

They anticipated that Planned Parenthood of South Dakota, which was - was and is the only abortion provider in the state, would immediately file suit and that would start it on its way to the Supreme Court. And instead of doing that, Planned Parenthood said, well, we're not going to take that bait, we're going to use the South Dakota law that allows us, if we collect enough signatures, to put this law on the ballot in the fall and let voters decide. And indeed that's exactly what happened.

INSKEEP: So no court challenge, this law is gone?

ROVNER: This law is gone. And I think the reason is that it was very, very sweeping, more so than we had seen. It had no exceptions for rape or incest, or the health of the woman, only for the wife of the woman. That proved a little bit much for voters even in a very conservative state like South Dakota to swallow.

INSKEEP: Now, another contentious initiative was the one on stem cell research in Missouri, which is turning out to be extraordinarily close. Can you describe what is behind that?

ROVNER: Yes. This is basically an effort by the Stowers Institute or by Jim and Virginia Stowers, the founders of the Stowers Institute - in Kansas City -Medical Research Institute that does stem cell research. They'd like to do embryonic stem cell research, but they haven't been able to recruit any scientists to Kansas City to do that. And one of the reasons they say is that the Missouri legislature keeps trying to ban embryonic stem cell research.

So they basically put up the money to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would essentially protect embryonic stem cell research from the Missouri legislature. Now, what got controversial here is that while the amendment would ban cloning intended to produce a baby, it would not ban cloning intended to produce embryonic stem cells. And that got the Right To Life community in Missouri quite riled up, and there's been a very vigorous campaign about how this would basically enshrine cloning in the state constitution.

INSKEEP: Which is how it ended up quite close. It was thought for a while that it would be an easy winner that would be a big beneficiary for Democrats and even Republicans who favored stem cell research.

ROVNER: Absolutely. All the polls showed it with a very comfortable lead. Interestingly, it kind of bled into the Senate race, where Democrat Claire McCaskill, who ultimately won this very close race, supported it, and it was opposed by the incumbent Senator Jim Talent, the Republican. So it looked like it was really not only going to pass, but probably give McCaskill a push. There was - I was in Missouri, and there seemed to me, from talking to voters that there would be a fair number of voters who would vote for the amendment, but possibly for Talent, too, and actually as it turned out, McCaskill turned out to have more support than the stem cell amendment.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, did these kinds of ballot measures actually bring more people to the polls?

ROVNER: Well, it's not clear whether they did, but it's certainly clear that many of them were designed to. Two years ago, we saw a number of amendments designed to ban same-sex marriage, and those were intended mostly to pull conservative voters to the polls so they would vote for them. And by the way, vote for President Bush. We saw, again, a number of those this time. They pretty much all passed, a few are still outstanding.

But this time, we also saw Democrats put a number of amendments up to raise the minimum wage in an effort to draw liberal voters to the polls. Again, those mostly passed. Whether they actually got more voters to come to the polls than would have come anyway for these hotly contested races in Congress is still unclear.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's NPR's Julie Rovner. This is NPR News.

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