While re-electing President Obama should be the top priority for progressives throughout the country this fall, we must also remember that there are many important candidates and issues that will be found further down the ballot on November 6. One of the most important categories of down-ballot issues is ballot initiatives, which provide voters the opportunity to have a direct say on major policy matters.
This year, states have a plethora of ballot initiatives pending for a vote in November. Below is Part 1 of our two-part guide to the initiatives of biggest importance to progressives this fall, along with links for how to get involved in supporting the progressive position on each initiative. Here in Part 1, we will address ballot initiatives regarding marriage equality, reproductive freedom, criminal justice, estate taxes, and death with dignity. In Part 2, we will highlight initiatives regarding worker's rights, government, and education.
If you live in a state with one of the ballot initiatives, please get involved by speaking with your family, friends, and colleagues; by volunteering; and by writing a letter to your local newspaper editor. If you live out-of-state, please contribute what you can to support the efforts of the progressive organizations who are working on these initiatives.
2011 was a banner year for advancing the cause of LGBT equality. However, the issue of marriage equality has yet to win majority support any time when it has been placed on the ballot. We have a great opportunity to change that track record this November in Washington State, Minnesota, Maine, and Maryland.
Washington Referendum 74 - vote Yes to uphold the state legislature's approval of marriage equality
Minnesota Same-Sex Marriage Initiative - vote No on constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality
Maine Same-Sex Marriage Question - vote Yes on 1 to repeal Maine's ban on marriage equality
Maryland Question 6 - vote Yes to uphold the state legislature's approval of marriage equality
Oregon Measure 84 - vote No on this proposal that would eliminate Oregon's estate tax, which applies to estates valued at greater than $1 million. As we've explained previously, the estate tax is the fairest and most meritocratic kind of tax there is. For more on why Oregon's estate tax is good for that state, check out this fact sheet from Tax Fairness Oregon. And then send a letter to your local Oregon newspaper urging people to vote No on Measure 84.
Florida Amendment 6 - vote No on this proposal, which would prevent state courts from reading the Florida Constitution's right to privacy to provide any rights to choice that are broader than provided under the federal Constitution, and forbids the use of any state funds for abortion except as required by federal law (i.e., in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother).
California Proposition 34 - vote Yes to help California become the 16th state to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without parole. As we've explained previously, the death penalty is barbaric, ineffective, biased, and costly. The evidence shows that the death penalty costs taxpayers more than life in prison without parole, does not deter violent crime, and is marred by significant racial bias and far too frequent ineffective legal representation for those who are charged with capital crimes.
California Proposition 36 - vote Yes to reform California's three-strike law. Under the current three-strikes law, individuals who have been convicted of two previous "serious or violent" crimes automatically receive a sentence of life in prison if they are convicted of a third crime, even if that third crime is non-violent. Proposition 36 would reform the law by requiring life in prison only if the third crime is "serious or violent," thereby saving the state approximately $70 - $100 million per year due to reduced prison populations.
Massachusetts Death With Dignity Initiative - vote Yes on Question 2 to make Massachusetts the third state that allows terminally ill patients to choose to end their lives with dignity. As we've explained previously, our current system that forecloses death with dignity in all but two states is simply unbearable for far too many people facing terminal illness. One way to help reduce or alleviate these painful situations is to allow a terminally ill individual to get medical assistance in hastening their death, but only through a highly regulated system that includes multiple doctor sign offs, waiting periods, and other precautions to ensure that sick people are not being pressured into assisted suicide. The Massachusetts ballot initiative would do exactly that, thereby allowing Massachusetts to join Oregon and Washington State in authorizing death with dignity.
Minnesota Voter Identification Amendment - vote No on the proposal in Minnesota to require individuals to obtain and present photo identification in order to be able to exercise their right to vote. Supporters of the voter ID proposal pretend to be responding to rampant voter fraud, but a five-year long investigation by the Department of Justice under President W. Bush found "virtually no evidence of any organized effort" to fraudulently impact federal elections and other analyses have similarly found no evidence of fraud. What the proposal, which would continue conservative efforts to restrict the voting rights of as many as 758,000 eligible voters, is actually designed to do is to make it as difficult as possible for Democratic-leaning groups to vote.