By: John Stonestreet
Presidential candidates get all the love. Just kidding. “Love,” of course, is the wrong word. What Presidential candidates get is all the attention.
The Presidency matters, of course, and voters should know as much as possible about the character, the party, the policies, and the likely people each candidate will bring to the highest office in the land. At the same time, for almost all of us, this election features incredibly important decisions all the way down the ballot.
For example, Amy Coney Barrett might have a new appreciation for the importance of Senate races. Or, ask Colorado State Troopers if their lives have changed since a particular ballot initiative passed in 2016. Or, ask the parents of Loudon County (VA) school children if school board elections make a difference.
At a time when, as Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse observed in his book Them, our natural appetites for community, belonging, and meaning are increasingly being satiated by politics instead of religion, Americans are voting on a wider spectrum of issues. At the local level, our ballots decides more than just what taxes we pay, what resources schools receive, which roads are fixed, and the size of the police force. Today, our votes determine what behavior is incentivized by the state, what worldview is taught as fact in our schools, and in some places, which laws police will enforce.
More and more, state by state, these decisions are going directly to citizens, to be determined by ballot initiatives. For example, in 2016, after years of failing to legalize doctor-assisted suicide through the Colorado legislature, the issue was put directly before the people and decided on the ballot. More initiatives appear on ballots in Presidential election years because more voters turn out for Presidential elections.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nearly 110 ballot initiatives will be decided by voters across the country in next month’s election. Seventy-six involve making permanent changes to state constitutions.
While some are more technical or procedural measures, a handful have important cultural implications. In Colorado, a “yes” vote on Proposition 115 would prohibit abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy, putting an end to the more than 200 later-term abortions committed here every year. Opponents of Proposition 115 have argued that, at 22 weeks, the preborn are just “11 inches long” and weigh about a pound, as if the size of a human being changes whether or not it should be killed. Voting yes on Colorado Proposition 115 could save lives. My fellow voters, not legislators, will decide.
In Louisiana, voters have an opportunity to amend the state constitution, explicitly declaring there is no legal right to an abortion or for state funding of abortion. Proponents call Amendment 1 the “Love Life Amendment.” Though it would not ban abortion outright, it could lay important legal groundwork for a ban in the future.
In Nevada, a ballot initiative called Question 2 would amend the state’s constitution and explicitly recognize marriage as a contract between any two people regardless of gender. South Dakota voters will decide whether to legalize sports gambling. Utah voters will consider the rather bizarre proposal to make the language of its state constitution “gender-neutral.”
A somewhat confusing ballot measure in Washington State will directly impact the safety and well-being of school children. Back in March, the Washington State Senate voted to mandate comprehensive sex education for all public schoolers, starting in kindergarten, with explicit conversations about sexuality and sexual behavior to start in fourth grade. Supporters said that, since kids are getting sex ed from the internet anyway, they might as well learn it in the classroom. The confusion is that passing Referendum 90 would approve the sex-ed mandate. So, Washington parents and anyone else who thinks 10-year-olds should not be taught a so-called “LGBTQ-inclusive” sex ed curriculum, should vote no on Referendum 90.
As the Washington State issue illustrates, it is essential for voters to learn about the initiatives in their own states and study the wording of each one carefully. For Christians who are American citizens, it is a way by which we can love our neighbors. For Christians who are citizens of Colorado and Louisiana, it is a way to love our preborn neighbors.