The Night in Ballot Measures (Updated)

Social issues may have taken a back seat in the presidential race this year, but not on state ballots -- where South Dakotans rejected a ...
by | November 4, 2008

Social issues may have taken a back seat in the presidential race this year, but not on state ballots -- where South Dakotans rejected a measure that would have banned most abortions and California approved a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

The South Dakota abortion vote was much anticipated because it could have set up a new challenge to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. Voters in the state rejected the idea for the second time in three years. Voters in Colorado also turned back a proposal that would have defined life as beginning at conception. California was weighing a measure to require parental notification for minors to have abortions. Wednesday in the mid-morning it trailed narrowly, but the result was too close to call.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday morning that Californians had passed the state's closely watched constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. That amendment will reverse the California Supreme Court's decision earlier this year that legalized gay marriage in the state.

Gay marriage was on the ballot in other states too. Arizona voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage and Florida voters appeared to be doing the same. Just two years ago, Arizona was the first state to reject a gay marriage ban at the ballot, but this time the electorate chose to approve a more limited measure (the 2006 version would have applied to other types of same-sex relationships as well). Arkansas voters approved a ban on unmarried cohabitating couples -- including same-sex couples -- serving as adoptive or foster parents.

Another polarizing social issue on the ballot: stem cell research. Michigan approved a measure to permit embryonic stem cell research. Elsewhere, Washington state became the second state, joining Oregon, to legalize physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Nebraska banned affirmative action in public programs, while a similar initiative in Colorado was in a very close contest.

It was a good night for backers of legalized marijuana. Massachusetts voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Michigan approved medical marijuana for people with debilitating illnesses. California, however, rejected a proposal to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Voters were deciding a few immigration-related measures as well. Arizona rejected a measure that would have loosened its toughest-in-the-nation law regarding employers that hire illegal immigrants. Missouri voted to make English the official language at government meetings. Oregon turned back an initiative to forbid public school students from receiving more than two years of bilingual education.

While social issues were garnering the most attention on state ballots, voters were also making key fiscal decisions. Massachusetts rejected a proposal to eliminate the state income tax. Colorado voted down a sales tax increase and appeared to be rejecting a measure that would have removed some of the restrictions of the state's taxpayer's bill of rights. Minnesota, on the other hand, did approve a sales tax increase to fund the arts and natural resources.

With states facing severe fiscal stress, voters appeared willing to bet on expanded gambling to bring in more revenue. Maryland approved slot machine gambling. Arkansas voted to create a state lottery for the first time.

Voters weren't in the mood to overhaul state constitutions. Connecticut, Hawaii and Illinois each rejected measures that would have called new constitutional conventions.

A couple of major California initiatives were too close to call as of mid-morning. One would create a non-partisan process for conducting legislative redistricting. The other would approve $10 billion in bonds for high-speed rail in California. But, farm animals had reason to cheer in the state. California approved a measure, advocated by the Humane Society, that sets new rules for the treatment of chickens, calves and pregnant pigs.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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