Not so bad, but still pivotal: US state ballot fights

As Democratic hopes of retaking the US Congress look more distant, attention is turning to state houses in the key swing states. How Republican lawmakers do on ballot initiatives on issues like abortion and healthcare could affect next year’s midterm elections. But activists say the battle over state laws may be much more than that. Voters may be able to address popular policy priorities at the ballot box before their lawmakers arrive to take those power in Washington.

“For Democrats who are sick of the Trump and budget deficit hysteria, it’s very easy to look at a state house and the contested houses of ideas there, and be very discouraged, but the reality is that the field is much deeper than those simple political metaphors suggest,” said Jane Stevenson, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Part of the beauty of it, even before we get to any general election, is that any single individual state can be a battleground. This gives us a chance to drive some of these issues to the fore before Washington does it for us.”

Utah and North Dakota voted to approve personhood amendments – a term for all life from conception. North Dakota residents voted 61% to 39% to approve personhood. Similar measures were passed in other states that voted, including Arizona and Arkansas.

“One of the best lessons of the landslide of personhood across the US was that we needed to change the concept of being anti-choice to be pro-human-life,” said Trish Marquardt, president of the Personhood USA project. “One of the red states that got it is Idaho and we pulled that same stunt last night.”

Four abortion rights states in the south are the battlegrounds for personhood – Mississippi, North Dakota, Arkansas and Ohio. Ten more, including Arizona, won’t have to vote on the issue for at least four years, according to Personhood USA. The US supreme court heard two abortion cases recently and is expected to issue rulings before the midterms.

“There is not a question about whether the supreme court is going to decide to reverse Roe v Wade or force states to pass abortion bans,” Marquardt said. “This is now a major conservative plank in American politics. It is also one that has broad-based support among Americans for Life and the pro-life movement.”

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of 1,000 likely voters found 65% of voters in the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Colorado – among the nation’s key battlegrounds for the midterm elections in November – support laws to ban abortion and require mandatory parental consent before a minor can have an abortion.

It found among swing state voters in Tennessee and Missouri only 47% and 41% respectively agreed with the restrictions.

Meanwhile, the ballot initiatives in Utah and North Dakota to tighten restrictions on abortion rights were backed by 51% of registered voters. The final vote is expected to go in favour of the restriction.

“The polling is revealing the limits of what the US Constitution is capable of protecting,” Marquardt said. “The basic concept of abortion rights is a constitutional right but Roe v Wade does not protect the right to create life.”

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