For an odd-numbered year, this fall is offering a surprisingly full roster of compelling political races. The drama is coming not from candidates but from ballot measures, with voters in numerous states poised to vote on politically volatile issues from same-sex marriage to rules for drawing congressional districts.

California leads the pack with eight measures on its ballot. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has put three of them there, including one that would change the way the Golden State draws its congressional districts to reduce partisan gerrymandering and another that would cap state spending. Voters will also consider whether parental notifications ought to be required before a minor receives an abortion and whether it should be harder for public employee unions to spend their dues on political activities.

Gay rights are on the line in some states. Texas will consider a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage, while Maine voters will decide whether to repeal a state law banning discrimination against gays. Colorado is considering relaxing a state law, cherished by anti-tax activists, that puts strict limits on government spending. Washington state is expected to vote on two dueling measures on medical malpractice. One, sponsored by doctors, would limit awards and fees in malpractice lawsuits. The other, backed by lawyers, would punish physicians involved in three malpractice "incidents." Evergreen State smokers face a fight with a proposal that would ban lighting up in public places.

Ohio is expected to vote on possible changes to its election rules, including one that would change the way it draws congressional districts. Another would give an independent panel -- rather than the secretary of state -- oversight of its elections. New Jersey voters will vote on whether the state should create an office for an elected lieutenant governor. Until now, it has gotten by without a lieutenant governor, but last year's resignation of Gov. James E. McGreevey (D) in a sex scandal put the question of succession back in debate.

Voters in eight states are expected to weigh in on 39 measures.

Unions Building GOP Bridges

Businessman David McSweeney (R), who is challenging freshman Rep. Melissa L. Bean (D) in Illinois's 8th District, was the special guest at a "get to know you" event last week at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

What made it different from the dozens of other meet and greets on Capitol Hill is that it was hosted by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Association of Fire Fighters -- two major players in organized labor. It was the first such event for a Republican challenger the groups have hosted since the November election.

Bean's vote in support of the Central American Free Trade Agreement in July enraged many in the labor movement and was the catalyst for this get- even event. Although McSweeney also supported CAFTA, the unions are willing to try to find common ground with him on the issue, given their animosity toward Bean, said a person in attendance.

With Republicans in control of all three branches of the federal government, these unions as well as the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades have done significant bridge-building to the GOP over the past few years.

Earlier this year, NRCC Chairman Thomas M. Reynolds (N.Y.) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) held a meet and greet attended by more than 35 unions and nearly every member of the House Republican freshman class.

Cillizza is a staff writer with washingtonpost.com.