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November 2008 Ballot Initiatives on Civil Liberties

A State-by-State Summary


The presidential and congressional elections are dominating the national debate, but on the state level, voters are considering referendums that may have an equal or greater impact on individual civil liberties.


Alaska has two ballot initiatives relevant to civil liberties: Ballot Measure 1, which would legalize gambling (well, lotteries and casinos, anyway), and Ballot Measure 2, which would restrict aerial hunting of wolves and bears.


Arizona's Proposition 100 is a remix of the failed 2006 referendum on same-sex marriage, the first same-sex marriage ban referendum to fail a popular vote, which would have revised the state constitution to ban both same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships. The 2008 version is slightly more liberal--banning only marriage, while allowing civil unions and domestic partnerships--which proponents hope will be enough to get the amendment passed. In practice, it represents an effort by right-wing activist groups in John McCain's home state to take a cheap shot at lesbian and gay couples to avenge their 2006 defeat.


Arkansas' Amendment 1 would end a constitutional restriction stating that "no idiot or insane person" may vote, which would finally allow political candidates to vote for themselves in state elections.


California has no fewer than five important ballot initiatives on civil liberties:
  • Proposition 4, which would introduce new restrictions on abortion rights ;
  • Proposition 5, which would liberalize drug laws ;
  • Proposition 6, which would revoke bail and increase penalties for all undocumented immigrants arrested on felony charges ;
  • Proposition 8, which would ban same-sex marriage (annulling the thousands of same-sex marriage that have already been performed) ; and
  • Proposition 9, which would increase the power of victims in the criminal trial process.


Colorado is considering four ballot initiatives relevant to civil liberties:
  • Amendment 47, aka the Colorado "Right to Work" Amendment, which would prohibit employers from requiring union membership ;
  • Amendment 48, aka the Colorado Human Life Amendment, which would establish that the human person exists at the moment of conception, classifying abortion and some forms of contraception (including natural family planning) as homicide ;
  • Referendum L, which would lower the minimum age for a state legislator from 25 to 21 ; and
  • Referendum N, which would eliminate several obsolete and unenforceable liquor laws.


Every 20 years, Connecticut voters must vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention. In 1988, the last time the referendum came up for a vote, voters declined the option; there's little reason to believe that the outcome this year will be any different, but if voters do choose to hold a convention, it will be the first such convention since 1965. A state constitutional convention always has the potential for profound civil liberties implications, since the wording of state bills of rights, like the rest of the constitution, is subject to change.

Connecticut voters will also vote on an initiative that would lower the minimum voting age from 18 to 17 for party primaries.


Florida is considering three ballot initiatives relevant to civil liberties this year:
  • Amendment 1, which would end obsolete restrictions on the ownership of land by legal aliens ;
  • Amendment 2, which would ban same-sex marriage in Florida for a fifth time, this time with a constitutional amendment (as well as invalidating any "substantial equivalent thereof," language that would include civil unions and, potentially, some corporate domestic partnership policies) ; and
  • Amendment 7, which would funnel state money into religious organizations.


Like Connecticut, Hawaii votes every 20 years on whether to hold a constitutional convention. Hawaii voters will also consider SB 966, which would lower the minimum age for governors and lieutenant governors from 30 to 25.


Would prevent the "mentally incompetent" and those convicted of "infamous crimes" from voting.


Louisiana voters will consider two initiatives, both dealing with government seizure of private property. SB 295 would eliminate restrictions on eminent domain seizure of property deemed "blighted," a designation that is often applied to minority-owned and/or low-income property regardless of its condition. HB 461 would smooth over paperwork requirements associated with the transfer of government-seized property to new owners.
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