In a midterm election season when control of the United States Senate hangs in the balance, Democrats are increasingly turning to ballot measures to get otherwise reluctant voters to the polls. Big Business is, too: Some of the most expensive races in the country this year will be ballot measures written by, and for, major corporations. Some the hardest-fought ballot battles of 2014 won’t involve candidates at all. They’ll be questions that come with big implications for corporate bottom lines — or promise big benefits to political strategists, especially Democrats, looking to drive turnout for other races. For the first time in history, spending on the approximately 125 ballot questions facing voters in 41 states is likely to top $1 billion in campaign spending this year — and perhaps much more: Oil and gas companies in Alaska spent more than $170 for every vote they won in a successful campaign to reject higher taxes earlier this month.
Some of the issues involved are intensely local. Maine voters will be asked whether to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting, for the second time. Mississippi voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to hunt and fish. But state-level iterations of major national questions will grace the ballot in a string of competitive states this fall. And perhaps nowhere is their influence more keenly felt than here in Colorado.
In a state where a ballot initiative two years ago legalized the sale of marijuana, the focus this time around has shifted from pot to personhood. First-term incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D) is using Amendment 67, which he opposed and which would amend the state’s constitution to define a fetus as a person under the Colorado criminal code, to convince single women to turn out to vote to protect abortion rights. If they show up to the polls to vote against the personhood measure, the calculation goes, they will stay to vote for Udall and other Democrats on the ticket.