Voters face wide range of ballot issues Tuesday
Big judgments about the direction of the country will have to wait on this Election Day as voters around the country express opinions on a couple of governors' races, several mayoral races and a host of local issues.
Among the contests around the country Tuesday are governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey, and such questions as how best to turn the page in San Diego's scandal-ridden mayor's office and whether to spend more than $217 million to revive Houston's shuttered Astrodome.
From ballot initiatives to mayor's races, these off-year elections will shed virtually no light on how the American public feels about today's two biggest national debates—spending and health care. Those will have to be addressed in next fall's midterm elections.
Here's a look at some of the more interesting matters on which voters will render judgment:
BIG CITY MAYORAL RACES
Voters in San Diego, the nation's 8th-largest city, are trying to recover from ethics problems in the mayor's office—again.
Republicans have quickly rallied around a popular councilman, who is promising a return of honor to the office after Mayor Bob Filner resigned in August eight months into his term for sexual harassment allegations that resulted in guilty pleas to related charges.
Filner was the first Democrat to become San Diego mayor in 20 years, but the third to resign in the past 30. The three Democrats—a tech exec, city councilman and former city attorney—are not mentioning the former congressman's misdeeds, but asking voters to keep the party in power.
Mayoral races also will be decided in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis and Seattle. Then there's New York, where Michael Bloomberg has served for 12 years and where former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner's hope for political redemption became an asterisk to the two candidates, Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD
In a ballot issue that has become a fight between transparency and the world's largest food companies, Washington state voters will decide whether food producers will label genetically modified foods.
The campaign, like one narrowly defeated last year in California, has drawn hefty financial contributions in opposition from the likes of PepsiCo.,Monsanto and General Mills. Last year, such interests combined to spend $46 million to defeat the question.
Supporters say consumers have a right to know whether foods they buy contain genetically engineered ingredients and contend that the genetically engineered label is no different from other food labels. Foes say it would cost farmers and food processors, and that the label would imply the food is less safe.
Colorado voters in rural 11 counties—unhappy with legal pot and same-sex unions enacted by majority Democrats—are asking voters to approve secession from the state. One wants to join Wyoming. It's a longshot proposal but an indication of the sharp divide between conservative northern and eastern Colorado, the Denver area's swing-voting suburbs and the liberal city of Denver and resort towns.
Voters in one such mountain getaway, Telluride, will decide whether to tax bottled sugary drinks, including soda, 1 cent per ounce. The tax, expected to raise roughly $400,000 annually beginning next year, would be spent on children's health and physical activity programs.
"It's been pretty divided," said Zach Sands, a bartender at a Telluride brew pub. "Personally, I'm for it. It's going to help a lot of local athletic programs."
NEW JERSEY, VIRGINIA, NATIONAL POLITICS
In Washington, D.C., the 16-day partial federal government shutdown and troubled roll-out of the federal health care law has focused attention on Washington dysfunction, and Americans' contempt for it.
But there is no one clear question on the thousands of ballots around the country that will gauge Americans' mood.
Still, some political strategists might look to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's margin of victory should he win his New Jersey re-election race—where polls show he has widespread support—as a measure of this potential presidential candidate's strength on the national stage.
(Read more: How NJ Gov. Chris Christie could save the GOP)
And in Virginia, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe could win his first elective office in a decades-long political career after linking his GOP rival to House Republicans whose demands helped trigger the shutdown. Polls show McAuliffe with an edge over state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative with tea party support.
In tiny Coralville, Iowa, a big national outside group is exerting its influence. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity that played a role in last year's national elections has blanketed the eastern Iowa town of 19,000 with mail, radio, Twitter and Facebook ads promoting conservative council candidates to tackle a $280 million debt.
The input is hardly unwelcome, said Republican county co-chairman David Yansky.
"They have great ideas," Yansky said. "They want to be involved where government has overreached. That's part of their mission."
MARIJUANA AND ALCOHOL
COLORADO: Voters will be asked to approve a 25 percent tax on newly legal recreational marijuana to fund school construction. Opponents argue the tax rate would benefit black market sales.
MAINE: Voters in Portland, Maine's largest city, will decide whether to legalize possession of recreational amounts of marijuana.
UTAH: Residents in the small town of Hyde Park are voting on whether to allow beer sales in a proposal that has divided the conservative, mostly Mormon city. Hyde Park is among a handful of dry cities left in the state, and the ordinance would only allow the sale of beer with the alcohol content of 3.2 percent.
MASSACHUSETTS: Two casino proposals are facing key votes. Residents of the East Boston neighborhood and the city of Revere will decide whether to allow Suffolk Downs to go forward with its bid for a $1 billion casino at the 78-year-old thoroughbred race track. Voters in Palmer will decide on a casino proposed by Mohegan Sun.
NEW YORK: New Yorkers will decide whether to authorize seven casinos in a hotly contested referendum that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has bet on heavily to help revive the economy and provide tax revenue for schools. Opposing the measure is an unusual mix of conservatives, religious leaders, liberal good-government groups and newspaper editorials. They say the toll on families and communities is too high.
WASHINGTON STATE: Voters in the small Seattle suburb of SeaTac are deciding whether workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and nearby large hotels should be paid a $15-an-hour minimum wage and obtain a handful of sick days. Washington state already has the highest minimum wage at $9.19.
NEW JERSEY: A constitutional amendment would raise the state's minimum wage by $1, to $8.25 an hour, and also provide for automatic cost-of-living adjustments. The $8.25-an-hour rate would take effect Jan. 1, and the cost-of-living adjustments would take place the first of every September.
(Read more: What's ahead for NJ Gov. Christie if re-elected?)
HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT
MAINE: Residents of South Portland will vote on whether to ban the flow of tar sands oil from western Canada to the city. Environmentalists say the thick, gooey oil is more difficult to clean up than conventional crude oil, contains harmful chemicals and releases more greenhouse gases. Supporters of a pipeline say a ban would hamper the growth of existing petroleum-based businesses.
WASHINGTON STATE: The campaigning for and against a referendum that would require labels on genetically engineered food has shaped up to be one of the costliest in state history. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and five major corporations have spent about $20 million to cut into strong support for the measure, while food-labeling supporters have raised $7.8 million.
COLORADO: A kindergarten-through-12th-grade school-finance overhaul would increase income taxes about $1 billion a year and revive a progressive income tax structure abandoned in the 1980s.
TEXAS: Voters in Houston will decide whether to save or raze the iconic but shuttered Houston Astrodome. A referendum would authorize up to $217 million in bonds to turn the stadium into a giant convention and event center. If the measure fails, Houston-area leaders say the Astrodome will probably be torn down.
—By The Associated Press