Hot-button social issues highlight state ballots

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Social issues so volatile that the presidential campaigns sidestepped them will be on the ballots in several states next week, including measures that would criminalize most abortions, outlaw affirmative action and ban same-sex marriage in California, one of only three states that allows it.

In all, there are 153 proposals on ballots in 36 states.

In Washington, voters will decide whether to join Oregon as the only states offering terminally ill people the option of physician-assisted suicide. Massachusetts has three distinctive measures on its ballot — to ban dog racing, ease marijuana laws and scrap the state income tax, a step that could unleash budgetary tumult.

The main presidential rivals, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, have rarely made proactive comments during the campaign about same-sex marriage or affirmative action — issues on which the public is deeply divided. Abortion also has seemed like an uncomfortable topic for them at times, although Obama makes clear he supports abortion rights and McCain says he would like to ban most abortions.

But in a half-dozen states, these three issues are front and center.

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