The day has finally arrived.
After what's felt like more than two solid years of baby-kissing photo ops, hotly contested primaries and multimillion-dollar controversial attack ads, Americans are once again taking to the polls Tuesday morning (November 4) to cast their votes for our nation's next leader. But though the election has largely revolved around two names, theirs won't be the only ones on this year's ballot.
While much of the media's coverage has focused on the presidential race between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, most states will also be hosting important local races, which could end up shaping national legislation for years to come. Democrats are trying to get to 60 members in the U.S. Senate, so they can block Republican filibusters. Voters in a number of states will also be asked to weigh in on some 30-odd ballot measures, including proposals to ban gay marriage, criminalize all abortions and amend affirmative action.
In Florida, for instance, residents will be asked to vote on Proposition 2, which is also known as the Florida Marriage Amendment. If passed by a 60 percent margin, this amendment to the state's constitution would "protect marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife," while providing that "no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized." Opponents of the measure think it's nothing more than bait, designed to draw out conservatives for the presidential election.
A similar proposal is on the ballot in California. Proposition 8 would change the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry, if voted into law. The amended section would classify marriage as being "between a man and a woman," with no exceptions. Obama voiced his opposition to the measure over the weekend during an interview with MTV News' Sway.
Likewise, in Arizona, there's Proposition 102, also being referred to as "The Marriage Protection Amendment," which is up for consideration by voters. If enacted, it will amend that state's constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman; same-sex marriage is already prohibited in Arizona, but an all-out ban was rejected in 2006.
Colorado voters will sound off on two controversial ballot issues: the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative, which would prohibit discrimination or preferential treatment by the state in public employment, public education and public contracting; and the Colorado Equal Rights Amendment, which seeks to "define exactly what a person is under the laws of Colorado."
The first ballot measure — which Colorado Governor Bill Ritter opposes, saying it "undercuts Colorado and destroys years of progress in education, in health care, in workforce development" — would essentially eliminate affirmative action in Colorado, putting an end to preferential treatment based on race, sex or ethnicity by public entities. The second would adjust the definition of "person" to include fertilized eggs, even before they are implanted in the uterus. Opponents of the latter fear the language of the amendment would criminalize certain forms of birth control that interfere with the egg's implantation.
In South Dakota, voters will weigh in on an initiative that restricts all abortions statewide — except for those performed because of rape, incest or to protects the woman's health — and would penalize doctors who performed abortions with jail time and fines. If an abortion were performed, a doctor could be charged with a felony crime and face up to 10 years behind bars and a fine of $20,000. Meanwhile, in Michigan, voters will decide on a stem-cell initiative that would permit the donation of embryos produced in fertility clinics, which would otherwise be discarded, to research and would further permit researchers to create embryonic stem-cell cultures to study disease.
Several key Senate races will be decided Tuesday too, including North Carolina's, which currently appears to be a toss-up. Incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole could end up losing the seat she won back in 2002 to Democrat Kay Hagan. In Alaska, it's looking like the Dems may pick up another Senate seat, with Democrat Mark Begich taking on Republican incumbent Ted Stevens, who was recently convicted on federal corruption charges but remains on the ballot.
Another race that's too close to predict is the one for Republican incumbent Norm Coleman's Senate post. His opponent is former "Saturday Night Live" writer, comedian and radio host Al Franken. Those who have been following this race say it could end up going either way.
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