6 Most Controversial Ballot Measures
With such a close presidential election, many of us are focused on which candidate will be in the Oval Office this January. But that’s not the only thing voters will be deciding on. Indeed, in many states, some of the issues you care about most will be on the ballots. From labeling genetically-modified food to protecting animals from cruelty, click through for a closer look at some notable ballot measures.
1. Idaho HJR2: Making Hunting & Fishing a Constitutional Right
Other States With Similar Ballot Measures: Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Wyoming
The Amendment: Along with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and a right to a trial by jury, the Declaration of Rights in Idaho’s constitution would include the right to hunt, fish, and trap. Already overwhelmingly approved in the state legislature, constitutional amendments must be voted on in a general election.
In a state where hunting and fishing are so popular, it would stand to reason that this measure would pass handily. That’s not necessarily the case. The inclusion of trapping, an unpopular but particularly inhumane and cruel practice, has caused considerable concern even among the most ardent hunters and gun enthusiasts. Pets have also been caught in traps.
Who’s Funding It: The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Idaho Department of Fish and Wildlife helped write the amendment. The NRA, in fact, has been lobbying state legislatures across the nation or these types of constitutional amendments for over 15 years.
Potential Issues: Some constitutional scholars are concerned that the proposed amendment would extend rights to something that, well, isn’t a “fundamental” right like the right to free religious practice. Instead, it’s more like a right to, as one scholar told the Spokesman-Review, the right to “ride a bicycle or smoke.” Also at issue? Well, there’s concern that the ballot measure could open the state up to lawsuits about hunting regulations — and in turn deregulate the practice.
2. California Prop. 37: Labeling GMOs
In the footsteps of over 60 countries across the globe, Proposition 37 could turn California into the first U.S. state that requires most genetically-modified foods to be labeled as such on the packaging.
Though the science on whether GMOs are safe to eat isn’t completely sorted out yet, supporters of Prop 37 believe citizens have the right to know whether or not their food is genetically-modified. Opponents argue that GMOs are safe, and that the proposition will cost millions of dollars and force the price of food to rise considerably.
Opponents have funneled money into research that supports the claims that food prices will go up. The study was conducted by an independent consulting firm with no economic expertise, and that is best known for working against recycling laws for the soda industry. An independent analysis by a law professor, however, sees rising food costs as a very unlikely outcome. In the European Union, for instance, food prices did not increase after similar legislation was passed.
Who’s Supporting It: The California Democratic Party, Sierra Club, California Nurses Association, United Farm Workers, Breast Cancer Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, California Senator Barbara Boxer, and hundreds of other groups. Whole Foods Market also endorses it, along with several of your favorite organic food companies and hundreds of chefs. Danny DeVito does, too!
Who’s Opposing it: Agri-Business giant Monsanto gave at least $7.1 million to the No on 37 campaign. Other major donors include DuPont, Dow, and PepsiCo. Several food business associations, grocers, chambers of commerce, and taxpayer advocates. A handful of health organizations and NAACP chapters.
Will it be Approved? It’s unclear. For months, polls showed that Prop 37 would be approved by a 2-to-1 margin. However, weeks of television advertisements opposing the proposition have dwindled support for labeling GMOs. Yes on 37, with just a fraction of the budget of their opponents, just recently began airing ads.
3. Several States: Anti-”Obamacare” Measures
The States: Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Wyoming
More states are joining in on actions against President Barack Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act. The problem, though, is that, even if these measures pass, they’d still be illegal on a federal level. So what’s the point, then? Well, these are symbolic gestures more than they are actual legislation. They may give states a little more room to file lawsuits against the Affordable Healthcare Act, too.
Who’s Backing It: This year, all of the anti-Obamacare ballot measures originated not with the people but with conservative lawmakers in state legislatures.
4. Oregon Gillnet Fishing Initiative, Measure 81
If approved, commercial fisheries along the Columbia River would be banned from using gill-nets to catch salmon. It’s not, though, a wildlife-protection measure. What it does instead is allow sport fisherman to catch more salmon.
Who’s Funding It: One man, a resident of Washington state, has given most of the money in support of Measure 81.
Who’s Backing It: According to the measure’s backers, gill-nets don’t just catch commercial salmon, they also catch other marine life, including wild, endangered, salmon. Proponents of the measure, though, have suspended their campaign in order to work with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber on the issue.
Who’s Opposing it: Opponents say there’s a major catch in Measure 81. Though it may seem that Measure 81 will protect and preserve salmon and other wildlife, what it really does is allow sport fishermen to catch more of the allotted salmon each year. Oregon’s commercial fisheries would be seriously harmed, perhaps even out of business, if Measure 81 passes. It would also prevent Oregonians from purchasing fresh Columbia River Chinook salmon at grocery stores and restaurants, further damaging the state’s economy.
5. Massachusetts Question 2: Death with Dignity
Much like similar — and controversial — laws in Oregon and Washington, Question 2, would allow for patients with terminal illnesses to self-administer life-ending medications. Patients would need to have a prognosis of less than six months to live and be mentally capable of making decisions. They must request the medication once in writing and twice orally, and a second doctor must confirm the diagnosis and the patient’s mental capacity.
Supporters believe that terminally ill patients deserve the right to make their own end-of-life decisions, including ending suffering. It gives dying people the ability to say goodbye to their families when they’re still able to communicate. Proponents believe the decision to end your life is a decision between a patient and their doctor, not the law. They say that, in Oregon in Washington, only 60 patients have every administered a lethal dose, and none of those cases saw any abuse.
Opponents, however, argue that suicide, no matter what the circumstance, is morally wrong. The system could also be abused. For instance, many people who choose to end their lives do so because they don’t want to be a burden on their families. Another problem is that Question 2 does not require a witness to be present, so theoretically a family member could administer the lethal dose without the consent of the terminally ill patient. Another crucial factor for opponents is that prognoses can be wrong, and patients may end their lives even though they could have lived much longer than the six month window of time allowed for in the question.
Who’s Backing It: The Massachusetts ACLU, American Public Health Association, American Medical Women’s Association, Congressman Barney Frank.
Who’s Opposing it: One notable opponent is Victoria Kennedy, the wife of the late Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy, in an Op-Ed for the Cape Cod Times, said that,
“When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, he was told he had only two to four months to live, that he’d never get back to the United States Senate, that he should get his affairs in order, kiss his wife, love his family and get ready to die… But that prognosis was wrong. Teddy lived 15 more productive months.”
Other opponents include the Massachusetts Medical Society and several disability advocacy groups. The Catholic Church, to which 40-45% of the population belongs, is also opposed. Some liberal publications and politicians have also come out against Question 2.
Will it be Approved? For weeks, polls showed an easy win for Question 2 — more recent polls have shown a much tighter race.
6. North Dakota Measure 5: Preventing Animal Cruelty
If approved, Measure 5 would make it a class C felony to “maliciously and intentionally” harm a dog, cat, or horse. Compared with the rest of the country, North Dakota’s animal cruelty laws are quite weak. It’s one of only two states where these kinds of crimes are a misdemeanor.
Some groups think the measure doesn’t go far enough — some forms of animal abuse, like malnourishment and neglect, aren’t included. What’s more, only three specific species are named — what about the rights of all the other members of the animal kingdom? Supporters say, though, that the measure was written this way to keep the law as specific as possible and to combat the worst forms of animal abuse.
Who’s Backing It: The Humane Society of the United States, The ASPCA, Several rescue organizations, animal shelters, and animal rights groups in the state. Country music star and native North Dakotan Lynn Anderson.
Who’s Opposing it: North Dakota Animal Stewards is behind the “no” campaign. Members of this coalition include meat and dairy producers, hunters, grocers, rodeos, and other agricultural groups. They also have the support of some veterinarians and a handful of animal shelters in the state.