Monday, July 24, 2006

Will Ballot Issues Drive Voters to the Polls?
Tune In, Turn Out
Will Ballot Issues Drive Voters to the Polls?

While candidate races occupy the headlines, the outcome of the 2006 campaigns in some districts and states is likely to be swayed by ballot initiatives one side has brought up to boost the turnout and the vote for its nominees.

Politicians have discovered that voters who may be indifferent to the candidates can be mobilized when issues of importance to them are on the ballot, appealing to ideology or self-interest.

In Missouri, Democrats are hoping that ballot measures to increase the minimum wage and to finance research on embryonic stem cells will help their candidate, state Auditor Claire McCaskill, defeat Republican Sen. James M. Talent.

Labor unions collected twice the required number of signatures for the initiative to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.50 an hour, and five other states -- Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Ohio -- will have similar initiatives. In all five, there are elections for Republican-held Senate seats or governorships -- or both.

But Republicans will play their own turnout cards. Conservatives and antiabortion groups in Missouri said they welcome the stem cell issue -- they said it will energize their voters, who regard the destruction of days-old embryos for stem cells as akin to taking a life.

As in 2004, bans on same-sex marriage have political currency. The legislatures of six states -- Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin -- have placed the issue on the ballot, hoping that once again it will bring religious conservatives to the polls. You can measure the impact especially well in Wisconsin, where Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle opposes the measure and his Republican opponent, Rep. Mark Green, supports it. But it could also affect turnout in the competitive Senate race in Virginia, where Republican Sen. George Allen is being opposed by former Navy secretary James Webb.

Other hot topics for the November ballot include tax-limitation measures in Florida, Maine and Rhode Island; smoking bans or higher tobacco taxes in California, Florida, Nevada, Idaho and South Dakota; and restrictions on the state's use of eminent domain in California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan and New Hampshire.

-- David S. Broder