Did you know that voter turnout in states with ballot initiatives is much higher in general elections? This year each additional initiative on the ballot could correspond to an increase in turnout of roughly three to five percent?
Yet, although initiatives possess the power to draw voters to the ballot booths, their significance is often overshadowed by the sexier and louder parade of election activity created by candidate races. But initiatives shouldn’t be flippantly tossed aside this year by candidates and political operatives alike–they certainly haven’t been by rightwing organizations that understand the power and potential of ballot measures. Just take a look at my Top Ten list of hot initiatives for the year.
Top Ten Ballot Initiatives in 2004
1. Minimum wage increases in Florida and Nevada.
2. Anti-gay marriage bills in Missouri, Georgia, Utah and Mississippi.
3. Lottery funding for public education in Nevada and Oklahoma.
4. Conservation and open space battles in Arizona and Utah.
5. Ban on nuclear waste dumping in Washington.
6. Defense of Clean Elections in Arizona.
7. Tobacco tax for prescription drugs and health care in Colorado.
8. Defense of affirmative action in Michigan.
9. Progressive tax reform in Colorado.
10. Defense of healthcare insurance in California.
(Caveat: This is a constantly changing environment and although the campaigns mentioned in the list are highly likely to qualify, the initiative landscape won’t be fully clear until August.)
And for the larger argument about why progressives need to start looking at 2004 initiatives as opportunities, check out the smart op-ed below by Kristina Wilfore, Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.
The Political Opportunity of Ballot Initiatives by Kristina Wilfore
Today, initiatives are abounding in battleground states – largely in order to mobilize a conservative or progressive base, drive wedges into an opposing partisan coalition, and generate contributions to campaigns through what is increasingly considered a soft money loophole in a post BCRA world.
Tort restrictions, the denial of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, and immigration, are expected to be the hottest issues of the day and will frame the political rhetoric of a variety of campaigns throughout the country. Furthermore, several contentious tax-related ballot measures have been filed as part of a coordinated strategy among groups like Center for a Sound Economy and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform to shrink government and put Democratic candidates on the hot seat in Maine, Nevada and Washington.