Martha Burk is a political psychologist and director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women's Organizations.
Democrats are slavering at their prospects on November 7, when, barring Osama coming out of the freezer on November 6 or another attack on American soil—real or imagined—they will take control of the House of Representatives. Voters are more irate than ever with Congress—latest polls give it a 16 percent approval rating—so they may turn out in record numbers for an off-year election. Women comprise a majority of registered voters, so should figure prominently in that turnout. That’s good news for the Democrats, and it could be good news on a number of ballot initiatives around the country that will affect women’s lives more fundamentally and more immediately than which party ekes out a slim majority on Capitol Hill.
The Republican Senate played games with the minimum wage right before they recessed to go home and face the voters. Tying an increase to yet another tax giveaway for the rich, the measure was defeated, but the vote will still allow for some grandstanding on the campaign trail. According to an analysis in the fall issue of Ms. magazine, voters aren’t going to wait for a rerun in the new Congress. Proposed increases in the minimum wage are on the ballot in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio. Since adult women are the majority of minimum wage workers, they’re likely to pull the “yes” lever. (Even the Governator knows the power of the female vote. Having ticked off the state’s nurses a couple of years ago, he just signed an increase in California’s minimum wage in anticipation of November 7.)
In the arcane world of ballot initiatives, TABOR is not exactly a household word, but in states where the so-called “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” is on the ballot, you can bet women are paying attention. Conceived by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, TABOR would severely limit state spending for such “frivolous" items as K-12 education, kids' access to basic vaccines and health insurance for low-income children. The measure will definitely get a vote in Maine and Oregon, but is being challenged in Nebraska and Montana. It was removed from the ballot in Oklahoma, Nevada and Michigan through legal challenges after signatures were submitted.
Even though TABOR did not make the Michigan ballot, voters in that state have another reason to go to the polls besides the congressional races. They are facing an anti-affirmative action initiative backed by Ward Connerly, the right-wing guru behind previously successful state efforts in California and Washington. According to Ms. Magazine , Connerly’s underlying motivation is not ending affirmative action in public education as stated, but diminishing competition from female and minority-owned businesses for lucrative government contracts. If advocates against the measure are successful in getting the word out, professional women could tip the balance in defeating the initiative.
Money issues like the ones above are on everyone’s radar, female and male alike. But the 900-pound gorilla of ballot initiatives for women would overturn the abortion ban passed in South Dakota last spring. With no exceptions for rape, incest or damage to women's health, the statute outlaws all procedures except those to “prevent the death” of a pregnant woman. National women’s groups and local residents are pounding the pavement to turn out the vote. There’s no question that women—already the majority of voters and clearly the losers if the law stands—hold the balance in this contest. If the ballot initiative fails and the law remains intact, it will immediately be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, where it could be the long-sought vehicle the right wing has needed to overturn Roe v. Wade . Let’s hope South Dakota women vote as if the lives of their daughters and granddaughters depend on it, because that is indeed the reality of November 2006.