Update, Nov. 7: See the results for each of these ballot measures.
As Americans hit the polls Nov. 6, most will be focused on the presidential race, with little interest left over for down-ballot decisions. But in 39 states, voters won't just be electing politicians — they'll also have a chance to cut out the middlemen, voting directly on a variety of laws, regulations and constitutional amendments.
More than 170 state ballot initiatives will be put to a vote on Election Day 2012, thanks to local petition drives that proved their merit by gathering thousands of voter signatures. Many of the measures target social or financial issues, from same-sex marriage and medical marijuana to insurance coverage and sales taxes, but some also focus on public health and the environment. Here are a few of those ballot measures. (Note: Most of the official links for initiatives listed below are PDFs.)
- Text: "[A]n amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, relating to the Forever Wild Land Trust, to reauthorize the trust for a 20-year period."
- Context: The Forever Wild Land Trust was created by constitutional amendment in 1992, and has since purchased some 227,000 acres for public use as nature preserves, state parks, recreation centers and wildlife management areas. But according to the trust's website, "that's still a smaller percentage of public conservation land (3.66 percent) than nearly any other Southeastern state." The FWLT is funded by distributed interest from Alabama's natural gas royalties, capped at $15 million for any given year, and receives no taxpayer money. The initiative to extend its funding was sponsored by Republican state Sen. Dick Brewbaker, but also has conservative critics who oppose the expense.
- Text: "Repeals Arizona's disclaimer of all right and title to federal public lands within the state and declares Arizona's sovereignty over public lands and all natural resources within its boundaries."
- Context: Supporters see the measure as a way to prevent the federal government from unjustly claiming jurisdiction over natural resources in the state. Opponents say it would be unconstitutional, giving Arizona sovereignty over national public resources like Grand Canyon National Park, and that it could undermine federal environmental laws like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act. Many also point out that recent budget cuts have already hobbled Arizona's management of its own state park system.
- Text: "Requires labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. Prohibits labeling or advertising such food, or other processed food, as 'natural.' Exempts foods that are: certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered [GE] material; made from animals fed or injected with GE material but not GE themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of GE ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages."
- Context: Crops with altered DNA are widely grown in the U.S., and can be sold without distinctive labels. Many of these genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are engineered to withstand chemical pesticides, allowing broader use of agricultural toxins to kill weeds and bugs. While there is little hard evidence that GMOs pose a risk to humans, many people who fear long-term health effects or ecological problems say they simply want transparency. Critics counter that GMO labels would needlessly scare consumers and increase food costs.
- Text: "Repeals existing law giving out-of-state businesses an option to choose a tax liability formula that provides favorable tax treatment for businesses with property and payroll outside California. Dedicates $550 million annually for five years from anticipated increase in revenue for the purpose of funding projects that create energy efficiency and clean energy jobs in California."
- Context: Prop 39 aims to close a tax loophole for out-of-state businesses, with about half of the new revenue going to projects "that create energy efficiency and clean energy jobs in California." It would launch a Clean Energy Job Creation Fund to support: "(1) energy efficiency retrofits and alternative energy projects in public schools, colleges, universities and other public facilities; (2) financial and technical assistance for energy retrofits; and (3) job training and workforce development programs related to energy efficiency and alternative energy."
- Text: "[A] new section to the Constitution of the State of Idaho to provide that the rights to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, are a valued part of the heritage of the State of Idaho and shall forever be preserved for the people and managed through laws ... that preserve the future of hunting, fishing and trapping; to provide that public hunting, fishing and trapping of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing wildlife; and to provide that the rights set forth do not create a right to trespass on private property, shall not affect rights to divert, appropriate and use water ... and shall not prevent the suspension or revocation ... of an individual's hunting, fishing or trapping license."
- Context: HJR 2 is one of several 2012 initiatives to enshrine hunting rights in a state constitution; similar amendments are on the ballot in Kentucky, Nebraska and Wyoming. Supporters say the measures would protect states' rights and cultural traditions, yet critics call them frivolous, noting that hunting and fishing are already legally protected. The debate is timely in Idaho, since its ballot measure specifies trapping of wildlife as a protected and even "preferred" tactic. Many animal advocates see trapping as cruel, and it has become a touchy subject in some states with rebounding wolf populations — including Idaho.
- Text: "[A] $5,000,000 bond issue to purchase land and conservation easements statewide from willing sellers for public land and water access, conservation, wildlife or fish habitat and outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing and deer wintering areas, and to preserve working farmland and working waterfronts to be matched by at least $5,000,000 in private and public contributions."
- Context: This initiative would help Maine acquire land both for preservation and for public use. It's supported by the Maine Chamber of Commerce, which also backs a similar bond measure to fund water infrastructure projects. Question 5 would allot $7.9 million for drinking water systems and wastewater treatment plants, and would qualify Maine for $39.6 million in federal grants. Critics such as Gov. Paul LePage, however, argue it would be too expensive.
- Text: "This proposal would: (1) require electric utilities to provide at least 25 percent of their annual retail sales of electricity from renewable energy sources ... by 2025; (2) limit to not more than 1 percent per year electric utility rate increases charged to consumers only to achieve compliance with the renewable energy standard; (3) allow annual extensions of the deadline to meet the 25 percent standard in order to prevent rate increases over the 1 percent limit; (4) require the legislature to enact additional laws to encourage the use of Michigan made equipment and employment of Michigan residents."
- Context: Proposal 3 would require a quarter of Michigan's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, and would be the first clean-energy standard in a state constitution. A similar measure failed to make the 2012 ballot in Florida, but Michigan's petition had nearly 100,000 more signatures than it needed. Supporters include the Sierra Club, the United Auto Workers and the Michigan Nurses Association, as well as the Sterling Corporation and a swath of the state's religious community. They say the initiative could create 90,000 jobs, attract $10 billion in investment and improve air quality. Critics include the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Gov. Rick Snyder, who oppose both the 25 percent goal and the use of a constitutional amendment for this purpose.
- Text: "The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices."
- Context: Much like the hunting amendments, North Dakota's Measure 3 is either ahead of the curve or out of left field, depending whom you ask. It's sponsored by the North Dakota Farm Bureau, and supporters say it would protect food security by protecting farmers' rights. Critics call it unnecessary and unworthy of amending the constitution, arguing its ambiguity could muddle local zoning.
- Text: "This initiated measure would create new section 36-21.1-02.1 to the North Dakota Century Code making it a class C felony for an individual to maliciously and intentionally harm a living dog, cat or horse and providing a court with certain sentencing options. The measure would not apply to production agriculture, or to lawful activities of hunters and trappers, licensed veterinarians, scientific researchers, or to individuals engaged in lawful defense of life or property."
- Context: While it would raise the penalty for severe dog, cat or horse abuse in North Dakota, some animal advocates oppose Measure 5 because it excludes subtler forms of abuse, like neglect and malnourishment, as well as all other species, from cattle and wild elk to pet birds and lab rabbits. Supporters say they want "to keep the measure specific in addressing the worst types of animal cruelty," and note the weakness of North Dakota's current animal-rights laws.
- Text: "[W]ould allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds ... for certain water resource and sewage treatment funding programs. ... Not more than $300,000,000 worth of bonds could be issued. The Legislature would provide the monies to pay for the bonds. The Legislature would provide for methods for issuing the bonds. The Legislature would provide for how the fund is administered."
- Context: SQ 764 would let the state issue $300 million in bonds to fund water projects. According to the website for Yes on SQ 64, it would "enhance financial assistance programs that provide affordable loans to communities for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects," adding that "clean, affordable water is necessary to attract and retain business." Opponents like state Rep. Jason Murphey, however, argue it's too costly "regardless of the merits." Similar but lower-budget proposals are also on the ballot in Maine and Rhode Island.
- Text: "Prohibits commercial non-tribal fishing with gillnets in Oregon 'inland waters,' [and] allows use of seine nets. 'Yes' vote changes commercial non-tribal fishing in Oregon inland waters by banning gillnets, adopting other regulatory changes; recreational salmon fishers ensured their recent share. 'No' vote continues current commercial fishing practices, retains laws allowing gillnets, leaves other current regulations in place; continues annual adjustment of recreational salmon harvest share."
- Context: Current law allows commercial salmon fishing in Oregon's Columbia River only with gillnets and tangle nets, which stretch across the water to catch large numbers of fish. Due to declining wild salmon populations, Measure 81 would outlaw most commercial use of gillnets and tangle nets to take salmon, and would instead allow seine nets. Also known as the "Protect Our Salmon Act," the initiative is supported by state Sens. Fred Girod (R) and Rod Monroe (D), as well as the Coastal Conservation Association. Opponents, organized under a group called "Salmon for All," say the measure would put Oregon anglers at a competitive disadvantage against their counterparts in Washington state.
- Text: "[W]ill allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes for environmental and recreational purposes to be allotted as follows: (a) Narragansett Bay Watershed Restoration: $4,000,000; (b) State Land Acquisition, Open Space: $2,500,000; (c) Farmland Development Rights: $4,500,000; (d) Local Land Acquisition Grants: $2,500,000; (e) Local Recreation Grants: $5,500,000; (f) Historic/Passive Parks: $1,000,000."
- Context: Similar to other bond measures on state ballots this year — including another one in Rhode Island, Question 5, that focuses specifically on water infrastructure — Question 6 would authorize $20 million in bonds to fund environmental projects. These range from pollution abatement and stormwater management to developing public parks and renovating historic sites.
In addition to the 12 listed above, here are a few other state ballot measures that deal with public health or the environment (as above, many of the links are PDFs):
- Alaska: Transportation Project Bonds Question, Bonding Proposition A
- Arkansas: Medical Marijuana Question, Issue 5
- Colorado: Marijuana Legalization Initiative, Amendment 64
- Hawaii: Dam and Reservoir Owners Assistance Amendment
- Kentucky: Hunting and Fishing Amendment, House Bill 1
- Maine: Transportation Bond, Question 4
- Maine: Water and Sewer Bond, Question 5
- Massachusetts: Medical Marijuana Initiative, Question 3
- Missouri: Tobacco Tax Initiative, Proposition B
- Montana: Medical Marijuana Veto Referendum, IR-124
- Nebraska: Hunting and Fishing, Amendment 2
- North Dakota: Smoking Ban Initiative, Measure 4
- Oregon: Cannabis Tax Act Initiative, Measure 80
- Rhode Island: Clean Water Finance Bond, Question 5
- Washington: Marijuana Legalization and Regulation, Initiative 502
- Washington: Pollution Liability Insurance Measure, Advisory Vote 2
- Wyoming: Hunting Rights, Constitutional Amendment B