Ballot Initiatives on Health Care Reform Expected to Boost Voter Turnout in November

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Thus far, several states are considering, or already planning, to include ballot initiatives that will give citizens a chance to weigh in on health care reform this November, a move that is expected to boost voter turnout at the polls.

The Hill is reporting that South Carolina, Missouri, Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma are planning to include health reform questions on their primary ballot with the possibility of several more states doing the same if citizen petitions are successful or if conservative-run statehouses and governors opt to put the issue on the ballot.

In South Carolina, participants in the GOP primary will be able to vote on a measure that will tell state lawmakers they want them to halt implementation of federal health reform.

Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma will give voters a chance in November to amend their state constitutions to prohibit the federal government from forcing them to pay a penalty if they don’t buy health insurance. This amendment would nullify what is known as the “individual mandate” – the most unpopular provision in ObamaCare and one that would force Americans to buy insurance or pay a fine.

In Missouri, the question on the primary ballot is similar but is a statutory measure rather than a constitutional amendment.

Health reform ballot initiatives may prove to be as successful in turning out additional voters for conservative campaigners as it was in 2004 when same-sex marriage initiatives fired up tradition-minded Americans and brought an estimated one million more voters to the polls, many of whom voted for then-President George W. Bush. 

This is exactly what some are hoping will happen again.

“What we’re trying to do is give voters an added reason to show up to the polls,” said Joel Sawyer, executive director of the South Carolina GOP. “It’s a voter turnout tool.”

Michael McDonald, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University, told The Hill that ballot measures can attract up to 1 or 2 percent more voters. In tight races during midterm elections that historically draw fewer voters to the pools, this can make a difference.

The effort to repeal the individual mandate, which was spearheaded by a nonpartisan group of conservative state lawmakers called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2006 when health care reform passed in Massachusetts, is ready and willing to get behind this new effort. 

“We don’t care who gets it done,” said ALEC health task force director Christie Herrera, “just as long as they get it done.”

But Herrera doesn’t think conservatives really need a ballot initiative to bring out the vote.

“I think you’re going to see huge turnout among conservatives and libertarian voters,” she said, “just because there’s huge residual anger against the health reform law.”

Announcement of the ballot initiatives is coming at the same time that the White House and health reform advocates are ramping up efforts to bolster support for the unpopular bill. They held more than 100 healthcare events nationwide on Tuesday while President Barack Obama pitched the $250 “doughnut hole” Medicare prescription drug rebate checks for seniors during a national tele-town hall meeting in Maryland.

“Proponents of the law are launching a five-year, $125 million campaign to defend health reform,” The Hill reports. “The campaign, headed by Democratic operative and Wal-Mart Watch founder Andrew Grossman, is expected to be chaired by former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Victoria Kennedy, wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA).”

While Daschle and other proponents continue to believe that the more people learn about ObamaCare the more they’ll come to like it, political strategists say ballot initiatives will keep the light shining on unpopular provisions that most liberal lawmakers would rather not talk about.

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