When voters go to the polls this November, they won’t only be making critical decisions about who represents them in the White House, Congress and state and local offices. In a number of states, the people will vote on the humane treatment of animals—deciding whether to adopt policies on factory farming, wildlife trafficking and other animal protection issues.
Since the early 1990s, The Humane Society of the United States and allied organizations have been involved in about 50 statewide ballot contests, and voters have sided with animals about 70 percent of the time. They’ve banned cockfighting in three of the last states where it remained legal (Arizona, Missouri and Oklahoma), set humane treatment standards for dogs in the largest puppy mill state (Missouri), stopped extreme confinement of animals on factory farms (Arizona, California and Florida), and adopted new policies to restrict greyhound racing; horse slaughter; body-gripping traps and poisons; trophy hunting of bears, cougars and wolves and more. When politicians in the state legislatures have been held captive by special interests—such as big agribusiness, the trophy hunting lobby or even organized cockfighting groups—animal advocates have petitioned to put these questions directly to the people.
This year in Massachusetts, voters will decide on Question 3, which would phase out the extreme confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens in small crates and cages where they are virtually immobilized for their entire lives, and will remove inhumane and unsafe products from the Massachusetts marketplace. Backed by the MSPCA, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Zoo New England and hundreds of Massachusetts veterinarians and family farmers, more than 170,000 Massachusetts voters signed petitions to place Question 3 on the ballot. Question 3 adds momentum to what’s already occurring in the marketplace, with McDonald’s, Walmart and 200 other major food retail brands pledging to change their procurement practices and source only cage-free eggs and meats.
In Oregon, voters will weigh in on Measure 100, which will help save endangered sea turtles, elephants, rhinos and other wild animals threatened with cruel poaching and extinction. Every day close to 100 elephants are brutally killed in Africa, their tusks hacked off to supply the black market for ivory trinkets. Poachers poison watering holes with cyanide, killing hundreds of elephants at once. Organized criminal gangs and armed rebels use military weapons to kill wildlife for the multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade. Measure 100 will ensure that Oregon does not provide a market for endangered species products resulting from wildlife poaching and trafficking. If passed, Oregon will join California, Washington, Hawaii and other states in shutting down local markets for those who seek to profit from this destructive wildlife trade.
In Oklahoma, family farmers and animal advocates are opposing State Question 777, a measure referred to the ballot by politicians to amend the state constitution with a so-called “right to farm.” It would protect corporate interests and foreign-owned big agribusiness at the expense of Oklahoma’s family farmers, land and animals. The measure is so broadly worded that it could prevent future restrictions on any “agricultural” practice, including puppy mills, horse slaughter and raising gamefowl for cockfighting. Even the president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau said the language is flawed, and “I wish that language weren’t in there.”
Those aren’t the only states where voters will see ballot issues related to animals. Californians will vote on Proposition 67, to protect the state’s ban on plastic grocery bags, which wash into our rivers, lakes, streams and ocean, where they are ingested by or entangle sea turtles, otters, seals, fish and birds. Some ocean animals mistake bags for food, fill their stomachs with plastics, and die of starvation. Montanans will vote on I-777, which would restrict the use of cruel traps and snares on public lands. In Colorado, Amendment 71 would make it more difficult for citizens to have a say on future constitutional ballot measures, including those dealing with animal protection. The HSUS favors the California and Montana measures, but strongly opposes the Colorado measure as an attack on citizen voting.
When you enter the voting booth or send in your mail ballot this November, make sure you don’t stop after the candidate races. Continue down the ballot and review the issues at stake, and you could have a role in promoting the humane treatment of animals and protecting these creatures from cruelty and suffering, and preserving your rights to participate in democratic decision-making in future elections.
Michael Markarian is chief operating officer of The Humane Society of the United States, and president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.