Marijuana initiatives could bring young Democrats to the polls

Surveys show that Democrats are much less excited about Election 2010 than are Republicans. But in four states, marijuana ballot initiatives could motivate liberal voters.

Robert Galbraith/Reuters/file
Customers browse the showcases at the Harborside Health Clinic in Oakland, Calif., on June 30. California, the state that first allowed sales of medicinal marijuana in 1996, would take away all restrictions on adult use of the drug if Proposition 19 passes on Nov. 2.

Will marijuana initiatives on the ballot in four states help get young voters to the polls on Nov. 2, and once they’re in the voting booth, will they also vote for Democrats?

The Just Say Now campaign to legalize marijuana launched an online phone bank Friday to target young voters not otherwise likely to vote in 2010 midterm elections – including so-called surge voters, who backed the Obama presidential campaign in 2008. The aim is to identify supporters of ballot initiatives to ease restrictions on marijuana in California, Arizona, South Dakota, and Oregon, and then get them to the polls.

As a byproduct, however, the drive could affect the so-called enthusiasm gap in those states. Polls show that Republicans are much more enthusiastic than Democrats about voting Nov. 2, but marijuana initiatives could help change that calculus.

Organizers expect that there will be an impact on other races. "Marijuana reform on the ballot is motivating young voters in a midterm election unlike any issue we've ever seen" says campaign co-founder Jane Hamsher, who also publishes, a liberal blog.

  • The ballot initiative in California, Proposition 19, would legalize marijuana.
  • Arizona and South Dakota ballots propose allowing medical marijuana in the state.
  • Oregon’s measure regulates medical marijuana with nonprofit pharmacies.

The new phone bank allows anyone with a Facebook account to call voters in ballot initiative states and build a database of supporters that can later be used to guide turnout efforts.

“Some of these campaigns we’re working with in Arizona and South Dakota are small campaigns that don’t have the resources to pull off a massive fundraising effort from their own campaign offices, so we bring in our national supporters to help turn out people at the polls,” said Michael Whitney, online campaign manager for Just Say Now, in a phone interview.

“This is not about a political party. Our main goal is to show that marijuana initiatives are possible,” he adds. “We’re showing that when this issue is on the ballot, young voters turn out in much greater numbers.

But ballot initiatives could play an important role in campaign 2010. Some 47 percent of Republicans described themselves as very enthusiastic about voting, compared with 28 percent of Democrats, according to a Gallup poll released this week. Republicans have maintained at least a 10 point advantage on this measure since March, and a 16 point edge since August.

The marijuana initiative targets groups needed to swing the balance back toward Democrats.

In California, 59 percent of voters under age 40 support Proposition 19, and 94 percent of young voters say they are aware of the ballot initiative, according to a Field poll, released on Sept. 26. Moreover, 60 percent of likely Democratic voters favor the initiative, compared with 27 percent of likely GOP voters.

But Just Say Now adviser Bruce Fein, a former associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, says it’s not clear that the vast majority of voters that will turn out to vote as a result of this effort will vote for Democrats. “It could also be libertarians,” he says.

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