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Each election day, buried under the votes for political office holders are ballot initiatives. Most of these are boring measures about the state budget or bond issues, and sometimes they are new amendments to a state's constitution. Occasionally, an initiative gets a lot of attention. This year, for instance, California's Prop 19 (legalizing marijuana) and Prop 23 (preventing the state from enacting its climate change law) are both in the news. As are provisions from Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma, which undermine the new health-care bill by eliminating a mandate to purchase health care in those states. And then, sometimes, ballot questions are a little bit amusing, showing off some of each state's unique foibles and issues. Here are some of the best on the ballot this year. If you want to learn more, check out Ballotpedia.
The Florida Federal Budget Advisory Question asks Florida voters a simple question: Do you think that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to require that the federal budget be balanced every year (and also not raise taxes)? Given that it's only Floridians voting, passage would have no force of law, except to let the folks in Washington know that down in Florida, they like balanced budgets. Since Florida is often the gatekeeper of presidential elections, it seems like they could have more influence on that decision than voting for a meaningless measure.
This year, multiple states are voting on inserting language protecting the rights of hunters into the state Constitutions. Are hunters' rights threatened in these states? That probably depends on whom you ask, but most of these are preventative measures to forestall the scary (and probably unrealistic) fear that a PETA-supported anti-hunting law will be passed at some point in the future.
In Arizona, Proposition 109 would make "hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife a constitutional right" and "prohibiting laws that unreasonably restrict hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife or the use of traditional means and methods." In Arkansas, Issue 1 would do virtually the same thing, as would Amendment 1 in South Carolina and the Tennessee Hunting Rights Amendment. Let's just be clear, hunters in these states already have the right to hunt. They just want it specifically in writing. The question is, what other specific activities need to be noted as legitimate? Where does this end?
On the other hand, voters in North Dakota will consider Measure 2, which would ban fenced-in hunting preserves, giving the animals a slightly more fair chance.
In two states, voters get to decide whether convicted felons can run for office. Inspired in part by disgraced Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Michigan's Proposal 2 would "bar any officeholder convicted of a felony involving deceit and fraud from holding public office for 20 years." And in North Carolina, the aptly named No Convicted Felons for Sheriff Amendment would ban any convicted felon from holding the office of sheriff. This might seem like a mundane problem but, amazingly, at the time the amendment was proposed, five separate sheriff's candidates were convicted felons. There are, apparently, lots of criminals interested in law enforcement in North Carolina.
In Oklahoma, voters will consider State Question 751, which would require all the state's "official actions" to be written in English, and prevent anyone from suing the state for not providing information in another language. This isn't too remarkable; the English-only debate has been going for a while. What's amusing is the actual language of the law, which undermines the whole idea:
"It requires that official State actions be in English. Native American languages could also be used."
So, not only English. Also languages that very few people speak. Just not Spanish.
Also in Oklahoma, we have State Question 755, otherwise known as the Sharia Law Amendment. This amendment would forbid state judges from using any international law or treaties in their judgments. And then it specifically enjoins them against using Sharia Law, helpfully noting "Sharia Law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed."
Has there been a rash of judges citing Sharia in their decisions? No, it's never happened. But better safe than sorry.
Image: A Last day of Hajj - all pilgrims leaving Mina, many already in Mecca for farewell circumambulation of Kaaba, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from aljazeeraenglish's photostream.
Initiative 1098, in Washington State, is not particularly amusing, but the back story is. Washington has no personal income tax. The passage of this initiative would create one, but just for people earning more than $200,000 a year. It's basically a dedicated tax on the rich, and it's strongly supported by Bill Gates Sr. (Bill Gates's dad) as well as Bill and Melinda.
Who has been one of its strongest opponents? Current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Few people outside the country's smallest state probably know that Rhode Island's official name is Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Some state lawmakers want to change that, and in November, Rhode Islanders will vote on Question 1, which would amend the state constitution to change the name of the state to simply Rhode Island.
Why the name change? It's not about simple convenience. Some people don't want the state's history of slavery recognized in the name, though some historians say "Providence Plantations" isn't referencing the slavery tainted part of the state's history.