The Votes That Really Count

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Finally, in what could be a major decision in a vicious fight that swept through California and Washington State in the late '90s driven by African American businessman Ward Connerly, Michigan will decide if it wants to amend the state constitution to eliminate affirmative action in public institutions for educational, employment and contracting purposes.

Behind the initiative is Jennifer Gratz, who in 1997 sued the University of Michigan for discrimination after being denied admission as an undergraduate. The case went to the Supreme Court, which found in her favor, but said that affirmative action could be be applied in education as long as schools didn't use a strict points-based quota policy. She is now executive director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, the group that began the push for the referendum in 2003. Connerly has reportedly contributed $450,000 of the $2 million it has raised.

However, a host of organizations and individuals, from the League of Women Voters to Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo, have banded together to fight the initiative. The battle could be brutal because opponents have already vowed to try to block its implementation, if the proposal is approved by voters through the court system.

"Organizations and individuals are using initiatives like this to accomplish policy change," says Jeannie Bowser, policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures. She noted, "If it passes, it may be an indication of a change in public attitudes."

States Voting: Michigan.

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