Election Day 2011 is sure to be a sleepy affair on Tuesday. There will be few major races decided in this off-year election cycle. There are state-house elections in Virginia, a Democratic incumbent governor in Kentucky expected to hold onto the seat and a race for Mississippi governor that is viewed to be a lock for the GOP.
But in a handful of states, the real action for voters is ballot measures. Some of these initiatives are heavily contested by groups dumping millions of dollars into campaigns and have attracted national attention.
Ohio is the latest battleground in labor's fight against anti-collective bargaining laws that newly-election Republicans pushed into law. In the summer of 2011, unions and opponents of Wisconsin's anti-union law attempted to recall Republican state senators for supporting the legislation. Democrats flipped two GOP-held seats but failed to wrest control of the chamber from Republicans.
Now, labor is poised to overturn an Ohio law, popularly known as SB5, prevents public employees from bargaining collectively and striking. Also, union members' contribution to health care benefits and pensions would increase, seniority as sole factor for layoffs would end, pay raises would be based on merit and binding arbitration will be scrapped to place the fate of contract negotiations with elected officials.
We Are Ohio, a progressive group financially supported by unions, spent more than $17 million in its effort to repeal the law.
Meanwhile, the business-backed Building a Better Ohio spent about $6 million, but groups that support the union law are helping out in the finance department. A conservative group called Restoring America plunked down nearly half a million dollars for broadcast and cable ads, while another called Citizens United bought more than $100,000 worth of air time, according to The Washington Post.
Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, signed the law in March, arguing that the restrictions on collective bargaining are necessary to right the state's finances and make Ohio attractive to business.
The issue waded into Republican presidential primary politics when Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he supported the law when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney refused to outright endorse it. Romney was more clear in his support for SB5 afterwards.
The heated ballot measure has practically overshadowed the other initiatives that will be decided at the polls, including one regarding President Barack Obama's health care reform law.
That ballot measure would amend the Ohio Constitution to effectively bar laws that forces state residents from buying health insurance or to pay a fine for refusing to be covered. The proposed amendment is essentially a symbolic rebuke of Obama's Affordable Care Act because federal law trumps states.
Mississippi launched its own salvo in the national abortion debate with a ballot measure that would essentially ban the procedure with an amendment to the state constitution to declare that human life begins when a human egg is fertilized.
The success of the so-called Personhood amendment is far from certain. There are concerns even among abortion rights opponents about the ambiguous language, which could outlaw some forms of birth control.
Gov. Haley Barbour, a conservative Republican who believes life begins at conception, is unsure of his vote Tuesday. He said defining personhood at the time of fertilization, instead of conception, is profoundly ambiguous.
Perhaps concern among abortion rights opponents has made passage of the amendment unclear. A poll released Sunday from Public Policy Polling said that Mississippi voters are split on the ballot measure.
If ballot measure does pass, abortion rights opponents would get to see a challenge to the amendment end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, providing an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade, the high court decision that legalized abortions up to viability.
Personhood Mississippi, a group supporting the ballot measure, says on its website that the amendment would challenge Roe v. Wade at its very core.
In addition to abortion, Mississippians will also get vote on an amendment requiring voter identification at the polls. This ballot measure is similar to laws states with Republican control of legislatures have recently passed.
If passed, the constitution would require a person to show government-issued identification in order to vote.
Opponents of voter ID laws say that Republicans are trying to suppress the vote of people who lean Democratic--minorities, students and low-income residents--under the guise of battling voter fraud.
New York University's Brennan Center for Justice said in a study that 3.2 million voters will be affected. Before 2011, only two states, Georgia and Indiana, required photo identification. Now, five more states--Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin--will have such laws in place for the 2012 election.
Earlier this year, Maine Gov. Paul LePage killed the state's 38-year-old same-day voter registration law. On Tuesday, Maine's voters will have an opportunity to resurrect the law.
Protect Maine Votes, a group in support of the old registration system, said the law was efficient and contributed to high voter participation rates. As for combating voter fraud, the group said only two cases of election fraud were prosecuted.
In the run-up to election day, LePage defended his change to the voting system, raising concerns about voter fraud. He has also said that changing the voting laws again would burden polling clerks who are reviewing registration.
New Jersey already has legalized gambling, but voters could extend the law to cover sports betting. But residents should not dial their bookie.
Voters Tuesday will decide on an amendment giving the legislature authority to pass a law to sanction the state's casinos and racetracks to take bets on amateur and professional sporting events.
Even if the New Jersey legislature allows that, a 1992 federal law banning sports betting in all but four states would need to be overturned.
We're looking to have the ban declared unconstitutional, and some very good legal authorities we've spoken to agree with that. It's one state against another, Democratic state Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak told New Jersey's Courier -Post.
Sports betting in the state has bipartisan support in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said he is voting in favor of the amendment.
I think it's important for New Jersey to have this option, he said. I don't think it's fair that it's restricted to just a few states. Gaming is surrounding us everywhere.