There's a lot more at stake on Nov. 2 than who'll be elected to local, state, and national offices: A bumper crop of ballot proposals, many with potential far-reaching impact, await the voters' pencils.
''In terms of sheer volume of initiatives and other ballot measures, this may be a watershed year for direct democracy,'' observes Patrick B. McGuigan, editor of Initiative and Referendum Report. His publication, a project of the conservative-oriented Washington, D.C.-based Free Congress Research and Educational Foundation Inc., tracks developments on the state ballot front.
As has been the case in recent years, conservatives appear to be making heavy use of initiatives and referendums. But liberals also are more active than ever in pursuing these approaches to changes they favor.
A Monitor survey indicates no common pattern either in direction or philosophical shading of ballot measures from one state to another or often even within the same state. Those close to the scene question to what extent the ballot question results may reflect the mood of the national electorate as a whole, or perhaps even that within a given state.
Among the thousands of measures on various ballots are 236 statewide questions - 51 initiatives and 185 referendums. Proposals range from abolition of milk price controls in Maine to state spending curbs in Alaska.
While the 51 initiatives in 1982 are substantially less than the record 89 such measures on 1914 ballots, they are the most in more than six decades. And other ballot questions, too, are more plentiful than usual.
Sue Thomas, of the National Center for Initiative Reports in Englewood, Colo. , says special interest groups are spending record sums on heavy last-minute advertising to try to sway voters on some of the more volatile proposals, such as the gun control question in California.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia will have both initiatives and referendums on the ballot, and 24 other states have only referendums. The remaining eight states have neither. These exceptions are Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, and Vermont.
The number of ballot questions range from one each in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, to 15 in California and 13 in Nevada.
Tax-related proposals are most prevalent. Currently, 27 measures call for tax cuts, increased exemptions, or rate boosts in 20 states.
Of the 16 tax-cut proposals, however, only Oregon's ballot Question 3 embraces the concept of California's trail-blazing Proposition 13, which pegs property assessments to 1 percent of market value.
Abolition of the state property tax is before Texans. Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia have proposals for various types of property tax relief, including increased exemptions for elderly homesteaders.
Proposals to tax property according to its type of use are on Colorado and Mississippi ballots.
A Nevada measure seeks tax incentives to encourage the use of renewable energy sources. Voters there also will decide if mobile homes should be exempted from the sales tax.
Businesses located in rundown areas could qualify for limited, temporary tax relief under measures before Arizona and South Carolina voters.
Members of New Mexico National Guard units may be headed for income tax exemptions of up to $3,000. Nevadans, who two years ago gave initial approval to a measure wiping out property taxes on household goods, are expected to give that state constitution change final approval.
Repeal of sales taxes on food are at issue in Nevada and Washington. In the latter, however, the proposal includes replacing that 6 percent levy with a new 10 percent corporate tax.
A Nevada initiative would annul a tax package enacted by the legislature in 1981, rolling back the sales tax to 3 1/2 percent.
In Arkansas there is a proposed county roads tax.
Indexing the growth of state income taxes to inflation is a hot issue in Maine.
Ohioans will vote on a proposed increase in the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent. The additional revenue would fund high-speed, inter-city passenger transportation.
A Missouri initiative seeks a 1 percent boost in the state sales tax to benefit education and help local property tax relief. On the same ballot is a proposed 4-cent-a-gallon hike in the state gasoline tax. Nuclear weapons, energy
Next to taxes, the most common ballot issue involves nonbinding measures seeking a nuclear weapons freeze. Voters in the District of Columbia, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, and Rhode Island face this question.
Other nuclear-related measures are on the ballot in five states. Hottest of these is a Maine initiative aimed at a five-year phase-out of the state's atomic power plant at Wiscasset. A similar measure, but one providing for immediate ban of nuclear generation in the state, was rejected by nearly 3 to 2 in 1980.
Anti-nuke forces in Massachusetts are pushing an initiative that would require the state's voters to approve any low-level radioactive waste dump or construction of an atomic power plant.
A Colorado initiative embraces an income tax checkoff system to fund an education program on the hazards of radioactivity in the environment.
Pro-nuclear forces in Idaho are pushing an initiative to restrict passage of legislation imposing increased restrictions on atomic energy projects unless first given statewide voter approval.
Meanwhile in Montana a Legislature-sponsored effort is afoot to overturn an initiative, approved by voters in 1980, limiting disposal of uranium mining mill waste. Bottle bills
Proposals to ban ''no-deposit'' beverage bottles and cans are being fiercely contested in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Washington. In Massachusetts, opponents of the Bay State's bottle law, enacted last year and scheduled to take effect in mid-January, are asking voters to support an initiative to repeal the measure. Aid to schools
Aid to parochial and other nonpublic schools are at issue in California and Massachusetts. The Bay State measure would empower state lawmakers to provide funds for pupils attending elementary and secondary private schools. The California measure would allow the loan of public school textbooks to students in nonpublic schools.
Pledging state guarantees on loans made to parents of students attending in-state colleges and universities is proposed in Maine. Capital punishment, abortion
Restoration of capital punishment for certain first degree murders in Massachusetts and outlawing public funding of abortion in Alaska are among the year's more emotiona-charged ballot issues. Gambling
A measure to expand legalized gambling operations in Montana is at issue, as is a proposal in North Dakota to restrict gaming activities. Minnesotans will vote on legalization of parimutuel betting in Minnesota Gun control
Although only in California is a proposed gun-control measure on the ballot, gun-control opponents are counting heavily on passage of Nevada and New Hampshire measures to reaffirm through the state constitutions a citizen's right to "keep and bear arms." Government reform
Voters in the District of Columbia will decide the fate of a proposed constitution which if approved and later ratified by Congress, could make this federal enclave the nation's 51st state.
In Georgia a new constitution is before the electorate. The question of moving the state capital from Juneau to Willow is at issue in Alaska.
New Hampshire, one of four states with two-year terms for governor, will decide whether to joining the four-year ranks and also whether to call a constitutional convention to consider other amendments or revisions in the Granite State's governing document. State and local finance
On the fiscal management front at least a dozen states have major ballot proposals.
Alaskans vote on a constitutional amdntment limiting state appropriations. Raising from 6 percent to 12 percent the maximum interest rate on state borrowing is sought in Texas. A Maryland measure would clear the way for state short-term borrowing to meet financial emergencies. In Maine restricting the life of authorized but unissued bonds is proposed.
Legislative authority to emplower Idaho cities and counties to issue industrial revenue bonds is sought.
Restrictions on investments of state funds in Montana, lawmaker authority to authorize bonds without voter approval in North Carolina, and the use of up to $ 50 million in nursing home construction funds for repairs of boarding homes in Pennsylvania, are among other pending ballot measures.
In at least five states voters will decide on bond authorizations to fund special projects such as prisons, public transportation, and industrial development. Some 17 such proposals totaling $2.32 billion are at issue in Alaska, California, Nevada, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Business regulation
At least a dozen significant business-related measures are on various ballots.
One Michigan initiative would ban automatic utility rate adjustment clauses. Another calls for outlawing "due on sale" real estate transactions in that state. A third Michigan measure seeks an elected public service commission to regulate utilities.
A measure similar to the latter is before Ohio voters. Establishment of an office of utility consumer advocate within the state attorney general's office in Nevada and a citizens utility board in Missouri are among other statewide proposals. Interest rates
Backers of a Washington initiative would limit interest rates to 12 percent on retail sales. An interest rate ceiling in Arkansas also is proposed. Farming
Preservation of family farms through a ban on corporate ownership of agricultural lands is the thrust of a Nebraska initiative. Environment
Key environmental protection proposals include one in Arizona to return to federal ownership large wilderness areas and an Alaskan initiative staking claim to large tracts of federally controlled land.
A major California ballot measure seeks to establish a large ground water conservation project in the farm-rich San Joaquin Valley.
In neighboring Oregon a proposal would shut down the state's land use planning agency. Redistricting
Redistricting measure are on ballots in at least four states.
California voters, who in June rejected last fall's lawmaker-drawn remap of congressional and legislative districts, will be asked to set up a bipartisan commission to handle all future redistricting.
Proposals in Missouri would change the composition of the special panels that redraw the state's congressional and legislative districts.
An initiative on the Oklahoma ballot would replace the stat's new congressional districts with a plan deemed superior by its Republican sponsors.
Single-member state senate districts, instead of multiple-member districts, is proposed in South Dakota. Law enforcement
Law enforcement or court-related questions are on the ballots of nearly half the states.
A constitutional freeze on the size of the state police force is sought in Michigan. Establishment of appeals courts are proposed in Connecticut and Minnesota. A Missouri measure would end the required state supreme court review of every life imprisonment sentence. Establishment of a judicial discipline commission is before Colorado voters.
In Illinois the big issue is bail reform. Meanwhile, and Arizona proposal would prohibit bail for persons arrested on felony charges. Election laws
Election law modifications are at issue in several states, some of which include:
Lowering the minimum voting age from 21 to 18 and eliminating restrictions on offices women can hold is on the Idaho ballot.
Voter registration by use of driver licenses is sought in Arizona.
Electing a governor and lieutenant governor as a team in North Dakota, electing a state agriculture commissioner in South Carolina, and restricting Georgia governors to a single four-year term, are among the major proposals.
Financial disclosure by former legislators and statwide elected officials would be required before they could become lobbyists under a Florida ballot proposal.