WASHINGTON -- As U.S. voters look down their ballots next Tuesday, below the presidential line they will find options to join in a genuine political revolt and to enlist as religious soldiers in controversial moral crusades.
Across the nation, there are 230 ballot measures before the voters in 42 states, 68 of them put on the ballot by citizen petitions and 162 put there by state legislatures seeking voter reaction.
This year's ballot measures, giving the voters themselves the power to write laws, are particularly lively at a time when the electorate seems angry and unsettled about the way politicians are handling government.
Nothing reflects this mood of discontent as clearly as the likelihood that voters in more than one of every four states will approve new restrictions on how long members of Congress and other elected officials may stay in office.
"The move of voters to limit the terms of their elected officials stands out as one of the most striking revolts in political history," says the Free Congress Foundation, which closely monitors the fate of ballot measures across the country.
It notes that the term-limits drive this year regularly has had more than 70 percent approval in the polls, a fact that is leading many political observers to predict that all 14 measures on that issue will win, perhaps resoundingly.
But the seeming instinct of voters to take things into their own hands is also reflected in the wide variety of other ballot measures, a few of which pose highly visible tests of whether a deeply conservative Christian movement can assert more control in politics when it focuses its energies on single-issue campaigns.
The fundamentalists, who largely took over the drafting of the Republican platform and are working energetically at the grass roots to gain even greater influence within the GOP, are centrally involved in several hotly disputed ballot contests over the rights of homosexuals, including statewide measures in Oregon and Colorado that essentially would erase gay rights in those states.
The fundamentalist Oregon Citizens Alliance is one of the leading promoters of Measure 9 there. Its spokesman, Lon Mabon, recently told the Associated Press: "It is a cultural war, and this is where we draw the line. This is where we determine who and what we really are."
Robert Bray, spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, said the Oregon measure "is extremely dangerous for gay Americans. We are seeing in Oregon the beginning of gay 'ethnic cleansing' in America, to purge society of homosexuals."
The outcomes in Oregon and Colorado might determine whether the anti-homosexual effort moves elsewhere for future elections.
Conservative political and religious forces that believe abortion is the nation's top-priority moral issue are working to get enacted in Arizona, through Tuesday's ballot, a state constitutional amendment that would go as far as any state has toward banning abortion.
Arizona's Proposition 110, the "Preborn Child Protection Amendment," declares: "No preborn child shall be knowingly deprived of life at any stage of biological development by any person except to save the life of the mother."
In Maryland, the only other state with an abortion proposal on the ballot, the fight is over Question 6, an attempt to guarantee the right to abortion under state law no matter what happens to abortion rights under the U.S. Constitution. Roman Catholic churches throughout Maryland are among the most active groups in the effort to fight that proposal; it is common to see blue "Against Question 6" signs on the lawns of Catholic churches.
The generations-old fight over another issue heavily steeped in morality -- the death penalty -- is continuing this year in Washington, D.C., and in two states.
Under Congress' orders, District of Columbia officials are asking voters whether they want the death penalty. In New Jersey, voters are being asked to reaffirm support for capital punishment by approving Amendment 2, and in Arizona, Proposition 103 suggests a switch to lethal injection from cyanide gas as the method of execution.
Another life-and-death issue that stirs moral controversy is California's Proposition 161, which would legalize doctor-assisted suicide and is drawing heavy opposition.
But, as the Free Congress Foundation put it in a recent study of all of those measures, "Most striking of all . . . is the plethora of state and federal term-limits initiatives. . . . Indeed, this may well be deemed 'the year of the term limit.' "
Twenty-three states allow citizens to put measures on the ballot by petition, and in 14 of those there is a term-limit proposition. One of the special features of all 14 measures is that they would not stop at limiting the service of state officials but would reach to Congress, too, a reach that might raise a serious constitutional issue.
When about 150 members of the House begin their new terms in January and when 28 newly arriving or newly re-elected senators get to town for the new Congress, they will come with the uneasy feeling that their grasp on their seats is decidedly tentative if term-limits propositions in their 14 states have been approved.
Those lawmakers would have no assurance of being able, as members of Congress always have been, to run for re-election again and again. All 14 of the measures would be effective for elections after this year's.
Details vary from state to state, but the key features are similar:
* In eight states -- Arizona, Arkansas, California, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming -- House members' future service would be limited to six years (three terms) and senators' to 12 years (two terms).
* In four states -- Florida, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio -- the House limit would be eight years (four terms) and the Senate limit 12 years.
* In two states -- North Dakota and South Dakota -- the House limit would be 12 years (six terms) and the Senate limit 12 years.