Americans go to polls in last major elections before 2012

Americans began voting on Tuesday in the final major elections before presidential contests begin in 2012, with most attention on ballot initiatives in Ohio to curb union power and Mississippi that could outlaw abortion.Also on Tuesday, governors will be chosen in Kentucky and Mississippi, and there are elections for mayors in eight of the nation’s largest 25 cities including Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Phoenix.

Ohio, a key swing state won by President Barack Obama in the 2008, has the most closely watched, vote over the power of organized labor, which suffered setbacks this year in Wisconsin and other states.

Voters in Ohio are asked whether to overturn a law that would severely restrict the collective bargaining power of public sector unions in the state.

“We are continuing to reach out to voters and we will do that up until the polls close on Tuesday evening,” said Jason Mauk, a spokesman for Building a Better Ohio, which is campaigning for the union restrictions.

He described the effort as a “good old-fashioned grass-roots turnout effort” like a presidential election contest.

The Ohio law, a centerpiece of Republican Governor John Kasich‘s legislative agenda, passed the Republican-dominated assembly in the spring. But opponents were able to gather 1.3 million signatures to halt its enactment and put it on the ballot for repeal.

We Are Ohio, a group opposing the law, has raised $19 million, according to the Ohio Secretary of State, versus $7.6 million raised for supporters. Money has poured into television ads, and thousands of volunteers on both sides have worked phone banks and gone door to door to get out the vote.

“We’re asking each person whose door we knocked on to talk to their neighbors,” said Sue Taylor, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, who joined AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka for a rally in Cleveland on the issue Monday.


Taylor said she has never seen teachers so fired up about a political issue.

“There are teachers who are knocking on doors and (phoning) for the first time in their careers,” said Taylor. “People understand the stakes are very, very high and they don’t want to lose their voices.”

A Quinnipiac University poll showed that as of late October, nearly 6 out of 10 Ohio voters surveyed wanted the law repealed.

While massive protests in Wisconsin earlier this year grabbed national attention, Ohio is more important to unions. It has 360,000 public sector union members and the fifth largest number of total union members in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The other key ballot initiative on Tuesday is in Mississippi, where voters are asked to decide whether human life begins at conception, the so-called “personhood amendment” to the state constitution.

If the amendment passes, Mississippi would be the first state in the nation to define a fertilized egg as a person, a controversial concept aimed at outlawing abortion, some types of birth control and infertility methods that result in the loss of embryos.

This would open a new front in the political and legal battles over abortion in the United States, and could embolden opponents of abortion to try to pass such measures in other states.

Political analysts also are expected to watch closely contests for state legislature seats in Virginia and Iowa. Republicans are trying to win a majority of seats in the Virginia Senate, which would be a bad sign for Obama, who won Virginia in 2008 and hopes to do so again in 2012.

A special election for an Iowa state senate seat could change the balance of power there and encourage Republicans to try to overturn the state’s approval of same sex marriage.

An Arizona lawmaker who championed the state’s tough crackdown on illegal immigration last year faces a recall election.


COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) – By Mary Wisniewski(Writing and reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Corrie MacLaggan, Patricia Zengerle, Colleen Jenkins, Ian Simpson and Kay Henderson; Editing by Greg McCune)


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