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How People Voted on Local Ballot Measures Across the Country

Social conservatives hailed the rejection of a gay rights measure in Houston. But progressives were able to claim victory elsewhere.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which voters rejected Tuesday, would have added legal protections so that people couldn't be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
(AP/Pat Sullivan)
This is part of our 2015 elections coverage. Get more results here.

Social conservatives around the country hailed the sound rejection of an anti-discrimination ordinance in Houston. But progressives were able to claim victory on local ballot measures elsewhere that address housing, transportation, early childhood education and campaign finance.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, known as HERO, was approved by the city council last year. But a long court fight led to a state Supreme Court ruling in August that called for the measure to be repealed or put before voters.

"No one's rights should be subject to a popular vote," said outgoing Houston Mayor Annise Parker Tuesday night.

HERO would have added legal protections so that people couldn't be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of the debate turned to the question of whether transgender people should be allowed to use bathrooms that conform with their current gender identity -- as opposed to their sex at birth.

Opponents of the measure argue that people's privacy rights and safety, especially young girls', are at risk. "No men in women's bathrooms," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted on Monday. But other states that allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice have seen no evidence of sexual assault or other such problems as a result. By contrast, there have been documented examples of transgender people being harassed or assaulted for going in the "wrong" bathroom.

The fight over HERO drew national attention, with the White House weighing in last week in favor of its passage.

Proponents might have succeeded, according to Robert Stein, a political scientist and pollster at Rice University, if they concentrated more on the economic consequences of HERO's defeat. If the boycotts of Indiana earlier this year when it refused to pass LGBT protections are any indication, Houston could be in for a similar experience. Instead, they ran a campaign highlighting people in hopes of putting a face on victims of discrimination.

Houston voters did approve a change in the local term limits law; the mayor and city council will be able to serve eight years, rather than six. And LGBT activists did win a small victory in Philadelphia, where voters decided to make an office of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender affairs permanent.

Airbnb Claims Victory in San Francisco

San Francisco voters weighed in on several measures related to the crowded city's housing and development issues.

They decided not to limit short-term rentals, which would have been a blow to locally-based Airbnb, which spent more than $8 million fighting the measure. They also rejected an 18-month ban on construction of market-rate housing in the Mission District, which has been a primary battleground in the local gentrification wars. They did, however, sign off on high-rise development near the Giants' ballpark and approved a $310 million bond measure for affordable housing.

Voters Give More Money to Infrastructure and Education

Though voters often refuse to raise their taxes to fund transportation, Seattle voters approved a property tax increase that will provide $930 million over nine years for transportation infrastructure.

Seattle voters also approved a public campaign financing initiative known as Honest Elections. Registered voters will receive four so-called democracy vouchers, worth $25 each, which they can give to candidates for mayor, city council and city attorney who have agreed to abide to an overall fundraising cap. The vouchers will be funded through a property tax increase. The measure also limits contributions from lobbyists and city contractors, while lowering the amount anyone can donate to a local candidate from $700 to $500.

"One of the complaints is voters don't have control over who gets the money," said Heather Weiner, campaign director for the measure, which was known as Honest Elections. "We do something different here that takes public financing to the next level."

In King County, which encompasses Seattle, voters approved a property tax increase that will provide $392 million for early childhood development programs. Dow Constantine, the county executive, faced some complaints that he never specified exactly how the money would be spent, but there was no organized opposition against the levy. 

In nearby Tacoma, Wash., voters rejected a measure that would have raised the local minimum wage to $15 an hour. Instead, they embraced a competing measure that will gradually increase the minimum wage to $12. Voters in Portland, Maine, also rejected a $15 minimum wage proposal.

Tax Measures Split Denver

Denver voters refused to increase the sales tax to fund higher education scholarships and grants, but approved three other tax measures --  two that will fund development projects and one that will let the city keep $5.3 million in marijuana tax revenues rather than refunding it to taxpayers. A similar measure passed statewide.

Fracking Ban Fails Again

In Youngstown, Ohio, voters refused to ban fracking for the 5th time in three years. But it was the closest margin yet, with the measure losing by less than 3 percentage points.

"With that percentage, I'll be honest, I think supporters of the amendment will put this back on again," Mayor John McNally, who opposed the ban, told the Youngstown Vindicator.

Gun Laws Are Sheriff's Choice

Supporters of gun rights won a victory in rural Coos County, Ore., with the passage of a measure to give the sheriff broad authority to decide whether to enforce state and federal gun-control laws. The measure will prohibit county funds from being spent on background checks for private purchases, as called for under a state law enacted in August.

This is part of our 2015 elections coverage. Get more results here.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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