For years, the rightwing has used divisive anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-fear-of-the-day ballot initiatives to boost voter turnout on Election Day and squeak out wins over Democratic candidates. But now, a grassroots group that kicked off a couple weeks ago, is taking a page from that playbook – minus the divisive ugliness – and working to place antiwar ballot initiatives in the battleground states of Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona and Oregon.

“The right has been using turnout initiatives for years,” Executive Director Dylan Loewe told me. “This is the left’s response. We’re going to work with the states to craft language that captures what more than two-thirds of the country already believes – that it’s time to bring our troops home as quickly and safely as possible.”

Loewe was pursuing law and public policy degrees at Columbia Law School and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government when he came up with the “vague idea” that led to Ballotground.

“Like most Americans, I’d grown increasingly frustrated with the direction of the war and the impotence of Congress to change it,” Loewe said. “I felt like we had to take the issue out of DC, into the states and to the people. People have a right – at the ballot box, on election day – to express that in a democracy our opinion is not irrelevant and that it’s time to bring the troops home.”

Loewe took a leave of absence from grad school and reached out to an experienced team of colleagues. Together, they looked at the 24 states that have a ballot initiative process and narrowed it down to states that either were battlegrounds in 2004 or could be in 2008. Of the five selected, Arizona is the only one that was decided by more than five percentage points in the 2004 presidential election, and it had been considered “in play” until the final weeks when the Kerry campaign made a controversial decision to pull out. Ballotground is now working closely with civic leaders, state elected officials, antiwar organizations, and the citizens of the targeted states to determine the ballot language and build coalitions.

“Our goal is to literally make the 2008 election a referendum on the war,” Loewe said. “These ballot initiatives will boost antiwar turnout, and the greater turnout, the greater the antiwar mandate for the new Congress and president. To end this war, we need a change in the White House and a clear mandate for the new president.”

Ballotground will be on the ground in each of the five states sometime between December and March, depending on the states’ initiative deadlines. The organization will then spend 30 to 45 days training volunteers, and 100 to 120 days gathering signatures to get on the ballot. It hopes to raise a budget of $6.2 million – about half of which would be used to qualify for the ballot and build a database of antiwar voters, with the remainder going towards voter turnout.

Loewe also hopes in the coming months that Ballotground’s success at the grassroots will translate to increasing pressure on the current Congress as 2008 shapes up as a direct referendum on the war.

“I think 2006 definitely showed us that an implied mandate is insufficient,” Loewe said. “But more importantly, when it comes to military policy, if you’re not sending a mandate directly to the Commander in Chief, you end up with an uphill climb.”

George Bush won by a margin of just seventeen electoral votes in 2004. If Ballotground is successful in its effort, citizens will be in a better place to hold the new Commander in Chief accountable.