Ballot issues 2012: the five most intriguing propositions on Election Day

Max Zimbert
The Ticket

From the wacky to the serious, there are more than 170 measures on ballots in 38 states on Election Day 2012, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.

Here are five intriguing ballot measures that will be put to voters on Election Day.

California: Genetically modified ingredients

California's Proposition 37 just might be the biggest roll of the dice ever for public policy foodies. If it passes, California would be the first state in the nation to label genetically modified ingredients in all food and drinks, from breakfast cereals, packaged vegetables and sodas to canned and frozen goods.

Both sides argue about the measure's consequences, according to columnist Dan Walters at the Sacramento Bee. Some organic food companies, farmers (and trial lawyers), and their allies, say more disclosure helps consumers make more informed choices.

But retailers as well as some other food companies argue that genetically modified ingredients offer no health or safety risks, and that Prop 37 would cost consumers and businesses money without any public benefit. Those against the ballot have backed their arguments with a $40 million campaign of ads, commissioned studies and testimonials. (The pro-Proposition 37 side is airing ads as well, but far fewer in number.)

Because of California's  economic weight as a food producer and consumer, passing the proposition would likely pave the way for similar labels to appear in grocery stores in other states.

Polls have showed support for the ballot initiative hovering above 70 percent throughout the summer, but a slew of newspaper editorials against its porous language and the sustained negative ad campaign have tightened the race, according to Reuters.

Los Angeles County: Adult-film condoms

The porn industry is a $3 billion business by some estimates, which is why a Los Angeles-area commerce association chose to get in bed with it, literally--by campaigning against a proposition that would effectively raise the cost of producing such content.

Measure B's language would require pornographers, who file licenses with multiple Los Angeles County regulators, to use condoms on set, and the Los Angeles Department of Public Health to lead inspections and enforcement efforts.

Supporters of the measure (campaigning under "Yes on B") argue that enforcing condom use would lower the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. They are led by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization.

"If it passes, it's going to reduce the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in our community at no cost to taxpayers," Michael Weinstein, president of AHF, told the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

The porn industry disputes the need for the proposition.

"[Porn actors] aren't lepers," James Lee, the anti-Measure B ("No on B") communications director, told Yahoo News. "What we're doing is saying: The more you learn, the less this thing makes sense for anyone."

And Stuart Waldman, the president of the 400-member Valley Industry and Commerce Association in the San Fernando Valley, told the Los Angeles Daily News that "the real results of this ballot measure, should it pass, will be "a loss of thousands of jobs" in makeup, food catering, transportation and other production-related sectors.

A poll of 400 likely voters conducted in early October and commissioned by Yes on B found that 55 percent of respondents support the measure, while 32 percent oppose it, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Massachusetts: The 'death with dignity' act

Voters in Massachusetts will decide if mentally competent patients facing an end-of-life diagnosis can self-administer lethal drugs they've asked their doctors to prescribe. It would be the first assisted-suicide law outside the Pacific Northwest.

Advocates include some patients and their families, as well some medical professionals and clergy. Opponents, led by some medical, disability and religious groups, argue the measure lacks provisions like end-of-life counseling. (Both sides were explained in the Boston Globe.)

Several polls, such as Public Policy Polling and University of Massachusetts & YouGov America, have found support for the initiative above 50 percent.

Montana: Corporate contributions to elections

Two things jump out about Montana's proposal to prohibit corporate contributions and expenditures  on elections.

The first is its chutzpah: The non-binding initiative would task state lawmakers and Montana's three-member congressional delegation to begin the process of amending the U.S. Constitution to overrule the controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling handed down by the Supreme Court.

(In 1912, Montana banned direct corporate spending in state elections, a ban that was undone by the ruling.)

The second is the bipartisan support for the proposition, one of only two state initiatives Montana voters will see on their ballots. Montana's leading Democratic and Republican politicians support the measure.

But its non-binding nature and herculean aims are cited by opponents who argue its mission is impossible at best.

A September poll of Montana voters by Public Policy Polling reported that 53 percent supported the measure, 24 percent opposed it, and 23 percent were undecided.

Ohio: Redistricting

Ohio could follow California and take the power of redistricting away from political parties. The initiative, Issue 2, would create a new 12-member panel to draw more competitive congressional and statehouse districts for the 2014 election.

The initiative threatens Republicans who drew statehouse and congressional districts favorable for themselves after the 2010 census. Issue 2, says the Party, will create a new government bureaucracy and that commission members will be chosen "behind closed doors."

The GOP has drawn fire from those who say the rhetoric is overheated and false.

But, like California Democrats who faced a similar redistricting overhaul in 2010 and are now engaged in much more competitive races two years later, Ohio Republicans may be right in thinking their majority would be threatened.

Citizen-led redistricting isn't a foolproof process, as parties and partisans can find ways to pressure the commission, advocates admit. But supporters argue that citizen-led redistricting is better than the current process, as they made clear in a Cleveland Plain Dealer story contrasting California with Ohio.

"[Republicans have] got all these perverse fantasies about what might happen with the citizens commission," Daniel Tokaji, a Ohio State University law professor, told the paper. "None of them are nearly as bad as what actually happened in real life."