Five ballot battles to watch

Five ballot battles to watch
Keep an eye on Mississippi and Ohio Tuesday where several key ballot initiatives will be decided.

From unpredictable House specials to the Wisconsin recalls, 2011 has been anything but the typical off-year. Gubernatorial races are traditionally the headline grabbers in these cycles, but this year’s races have mostly been snoozers. Kentucky and Mississippi are expected to be called shortly after the polls close Tuesday night, and Louisiana’s already been decided.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t returns worth watching this Election Day.  A handful of ballot initiatives have attracted serious attention and boatloads of money this fall and a couple warrant staying up late for.

Mississippi Initiative 26: The “personhood” initiative

A so-called “personhood initiative” is on the ballot Tuesday in Mississippi and the result could hold wide ranging political and legal ramifications. The question is a fundamental one for pro-life activists—when does life begin? The measure seeks to define life as beginning at conception and if it passes, voters in Mississippi would be the first in the nation to enact such a declaration into law. It would effectively outlaw abortion in the state.

A new poll from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found the battle over the initiative deadlocked—45 percent of likely voters were in support, 44 percent opposed. The group Personhood Mississippi is leading the charge in favor of the amendment, which has earned a significant level of national attention in recent days. Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU  all oppose the amendment and argue it would alter Mississippi’s Bill of Rights, which is illegal under state law. If it wins passage Tuesday, legal challenges are sure to ensue and likely head all the way to the Supreme Court.

Ohio Issue 2: Collective bargaining battle

In the wake of the Wisconsin recalls, this measure will take center stage in Ohio this Election Day. At issue is a measure signed into law earlier this year by Gov. John Kasich (R), which rolls back some collective bargaining rights for public employees—anathema to unions.

As a result, outside money has been pouring into the state with organized labor interests eager to snag a victory and some momentum for an effort to recall GOP Gov. Scott Walker heading into a presidential year. Americans for Prosperity and the Ohio Liberty Council have been leading the way on the right. On the left, the labor-backed group We Are Ohio is spearheading the campaign against the law.

The fight has already seen more than $30 million dropped in the Buckeye State and the latest poll from Quinnipiac University shows a solid majority favor repealing the law.   

Ohio Issue 3: The healthcare freedom amendment

It’s not the premiere issue on Ohio’s ballot Tuesday, but it’s one the White House will be watching closely. Opponents of President Obama’s healthcare law are using this measure to take aim at the so-called individual mandate, requiring residents to carry health insurance or face a penalty. Issue 3 is a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would prevent “any person, employer, or health care provider” from having to participate “in a health care system” and shields Ohioans from any penalty for not having coverage.

The amendment is backed by the Ohio Liberty Council and Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom, along with other groups on the right. On the left, Protect Your Care and Progress Ohio, which are staffed by a litany of former Obama aides, are leading the charge to fight the amendment. The latest polling suggests the amendment is likely to pass Tuesday.

Mississippi Initiative 31: Eminent domain

A recurring issue in Mississippi, eminent domain has once again found its way onto the November ballot. This year’s measure would prohibit the state from taking land under eminent domain and transferring it to private interests. The restriction is mandated for a decade. Outgoing-Gov. Haley Barbour (R) opposes the amendment on the grounds that it diminishes the state’s ability to attract private investment. Mississippi’s gubernatorial candidates, however, are on the other side of the issue, saying that taking land by eminent domain for private use violates landowners’ rights. A similar measure passed in Nevada last year.

Mississippi Initiative 27: Voter ID

Mississippi state Sen. Joey Fillingane (R) is the main proponent of an effort he says is aimed squarely at combating voter fraud in the state. Mississippi initiative 27 would require individuals to present a government-issued photo identification in order to vote. National groups including the ACLU and are fighting the initiative. Like several other voter ID laws that have been proposed in recent years in states like Indiana and Georgia, MoveOn’s Sue Harmon says the petition “amounts to a 21st century poll tax” that could deprive those who cannot afford an ID of their right to vote. Even if passed, the measure is likely to be challenged in court, as was a similar Georgia law.

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