Election Day 2011: Personhood, Collective Bargaining Dominate Ballots

Huma Khan
Election Day 2011: Personhood, Collective Bargaining Dominate Ballots
Election Day 2011: Personhood, Collective Bargaining Dominate Ballots (ABC News)

Max Whittaker/Getty Images

Mississippi is in the national spotlight today as voters there cast their ballots on the controversial “ personhood” measure and a voting provision that has spurred national debate.

Initiative 26 is an ambiguously worded citizen-led measure that defines human life as starting at “the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” The measure will likely be challenged in court, if it passes, and could set the precedent for abortion laws in the rest of the country.

The measure would restrict certain birth control methods and in vitro fertilization treatment, and would ban all abortion.

Abortion rights activists charge that the initiative is the biggest assault on women’s rights to date.

Anti-abortionists have been mixed on the issue. Outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour voted for the initiative but he said he struggled with that decision and had “had “some concerns about it.”  Most anti-abortionists believe that human life begins at conception and support allowing it in the case of rape, incest and if the mother’s life is in danger. This provision takes the definition much farther, and some conservative groups are concerned that, if it’s taken up by the Supreme Court, it would hamper their ability to overturn Roe v. Wade by shifting the discussion.

“Even opponents of abortion rights who would like nothing more than to give the courts an opportunity to reverse Roe v. Wade may find this amendment a bad vehicle for doing so,” University of Mississippi School of Law professor Jonathan F. Will and Harvard professor I. Glenn Cohen wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times. “Courts frequently read ambiguous language as a strategy to avoid raising serious constitutional questions. By endorsing a ballot initiative that is deeply ambiguous, pro-life constituencies could be inviting courts to read the amendment in a way that sidesteps the very constitutional question they want to force.”

Lines were forming early, according to local reports, as the national debate over Initiative 26 continued to brew. Election officials predicted a higher-than-expected turnout — an anomaly for an off-year election — if the morning’s figures remained steady.

Similar initiatives by Parenthood USA, which is behind Initiative 26, have been unsuccessful. The measure was voted down twice in Colorado, in 2008 and 2010. If it passes in Mississippi, it is likely to face a court challenge.

Most conservatives in the state legislature support the measure, including gubernatorial candidate Phil Bryant, who is widely expected to prevail over Democratic opponent Johnny DuPree in today’s election.

Mississippians will also vote on another ballot measure that requires people to submit government-sponsored photo ID before being allowed to vote. The measure is backed by Republicans who say it will stop election fraud. Democrats, however, have blasted the initiative, saying it will reduce voter turnout and discourage people of color from coming to the polls.

Several other measures and races have garnered national attention. Here’s a closer look at those:

Ohio Votes on Collective Bargaining Amendment:

Labor unions and the White House are closely monitoring a ballot measure in Ohio that attempts to cut back collective bargaining rights for union workers and could affect hundreds of thousands of public employees.

Issue 2 would eliminate public employees’ right to collectively bargain for health insurance and pensions, bar them from striking – workers would pay a price from their paycheck if they do so – and curb promotions based on seniority. It would also increase health care costs for workers. Employees would have to pay at least 15 percent of their health care premiums and allocate 10 percent of their salary for pensions. It goes one step farther than the controversial Wisconsin measure – which was the first to curb rights for union workers — by including police and firefighters.

The public fight between union workers and Republicans has led to millions of dollars being poured into the state.

Republicans, including Gov. John Kasich, say such cuts are needed to balance the budget. The state is facing an $8 billion budget deficit. But opponents have blasted the measure as a “vast right-wing conspiracy” and say it unfairly targets state workers who are already paying high premiums for health insurance and that targeting police and firefighters would hamper their ability to serve citizens.

The Ohio ballot measure is indirectly a huge test for President Obama. His campaign is closely watching efforts there – particularly turnout by labor members – to gauge how active they may be next year, and whether they’ll have a shot in a state that has swung to the right since 2008.

Fifty-seven percent of Ohioans supported repealing the law, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in October.

Voting Rights:

Mississippi is one of several states mulling changes to voting requirements that have ignited the ire of liberals.

Maine will feature a ballot initiative – Question 1 – that would require new voters to register to vote at least two business days prior to an election. Under current law, voters can register on voting day. Liberals have blasted the measure as an infringement on voters’ rights.

On the ballot in the state of Washington is a constitutional amendment that would overturn a law requiring residents to have lived in the state for 60 days to vote in the presidential election. The measure has gained widespread support and is expected to pass. It passed unanimously in both the state House and Senate.

State Budgets:

As states struggle with budget shortfalls, several are considering proposals to raise their cash flow. From Louisiana to Washington, budget measures are headlining the ballots.

Several amendments that would direct more funds to the state passed in Louisiana last week.

But even as states are pressured by the economic downturn, tax increases remain unpopular. In Colorado, attempts to raise the sales and income taxes to help public schools failed last week.

Gubernatorial Races:

The balance of power between the two parties is expected to stay the same.

In Mississippi, the gubernatorial seat is expected to remain in GOP hands with Bryant garnering more support. DuPree, mayor of Hattiesburg, has focused on jobs and education in his campaign. But Bryant’s anti-Washington, anti-taxation message appears to be more appealing to voters. Barbour, Mississippi’s current governor, is barred from running again under the state’s term limit laws.

Meanwhile, Democrats are expected to keep the governor’s seat in Kentucky, where incumbent Steve Beshear is vying for a second term. Beshear and rival David Williams have attacked each other on a wide array of issues, including education and job creation. In a state where President Obama’s popularity has plunged, Beshear’s win would be a boon to Democrats, who lost multiple states to Republicans last year and, in Kentucky, lost to unconventional candidates such as Rand Paul, who won a Senate seat in 2010.

Democrats scored another victory in West Virginia last month, where Earl Ray Tomblin narrowly won the special election to replace Joe Manchin, who is now a U.S. senator.

But Republicans have kept the scorecard tied. Gov. Bobby Jindal won a second term last month by a landslide.

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.