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  • Meagan Dorsch
    Director of Public Affairs
  • Jon Kuhl
    Public Affairs Manager
    Washington, D.C.
Nov. 7, 2012

History making ballot measures pass throughout country

Ballot measures in favor of same-sex marriage, marijuana use make history as the first of their kind to pass

DENVER—Voters made history in dramatic fashion, passing groundbreaking measures to legalize marijuana use and approve same-sex marriage on a day when 174 ballot measures were considered by the electorates of 38 states. That was the most since 2006 when 204 measures were on ballots.

In many states, ballots were quite long on Election Day, with voters in Alabama, California and Florida deciding on 11 statewide measures ranging  from implementation of the Affordable Care Act to same-sex marriage.

Of the 42 citizen initiatives on the ballot, voters approved 17. They rejected 23, and two remain too close to call at press time. In the 2000–2010 decade, voters approved 44.9% of all initiatives on the ballot. Of the 40 that are decided so far, 42.5% have been approved. That’s slightly below average and is subject to change as the results on these last two measures firm up.

"With a few notable exceptions, voters had a more negative view of ballot measures than usual this year,” said Jennie Drage Bowser, elections policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).  “Two big exceptions were the issues of same-sex marriage, where voters in three states broke new ground by voting to legalize it, and drug policy, with Colorado and Washington voters agreeing to legalize marijuana.”

There were 12 popular referenda on the ballot this year, the highest number since 1920 when there were also 12. The popular referendum, available in 23 states, allows citizens to put a new law on hold and let voters decide its ultimate fate. Six of the 12 popular referenda were approved. Nearly all of the legislative moves vetoed by voters centered on labor – in Idaho, Michigan and South Dakota, attempts by the legislature to reduce the influence of teachers’ unions were rejected by voters. This includes a rejection of Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law, a provision that would have allowed state-appointed emergency managers to terminate public employee contracts and collective bargaining agreements.

Of the 115 measures referred by state legislatures, voters approved 87 and rejected 25. Three remain undecided. Between 2000 and 2010, voters approved 85.7% of legislative referenda on the ballot. Setting aside the three undecided measures, voters have approved 77.7% of the 112 legislative referenda we have results for at this time.

Voters rejected all three proposed constitutional conventions that were on ballots this Election Day.

How Key Issues Fared:

Same-Sex Marriage
Same-sex marriage initiatives were on the ballots in four states this election. While close, all three ballot measures in Maryland, Washington and Maine passed and a constitutional amendment in Minnesota defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman was defeated. Since 1998, all but one of the 35 statewide votes held on same-sex marriage were to restrict marriage between one man and one woman. The exception was Arizona, where voters rejected a ban on same-sex marriage in 2006, but later approved one in 2008. With 32 states having restricted marriage to opposite sex couples, this is a big change in direction.

There were six marijuana-related initiatives on ballots this year. Colorado and Washington made drug-law history Tuesday when voters in both states approved measures to legalize and control recreational marijuana use. Voters in Oregon rejected a similar measure. Voters in Massachusetts approved the legalization of medical marijuana but the Arkansas electorate turned down a similar bill. Arkansas would have been the first southern state to adopt medical marijuana. Montana voters rubber-stamped the legislature’s move to impose additional regulations on an existing medical marijuana program.

Affordable Care Act
Four out of five states voted approved legislative measures blocking implementation of the Affordable Care Act. These states included Alabama, Missouri, Montana and Wyoming. Going in the opposite direction, Florida voters voted against exempting their state from the Affordable Care Act. Voters in Arizona, Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma have approved similar measures during the past two years; Colorado voters rejected one in 2010.

The so-called DREAM Act passed in Maryland. The measure provides in-state tuition rates for unauthorized immigrants who graduate from a high school within the state. Idaho and South Dakota voters have rejected the legislatures’ attempts to reduce the influence of teachers’ unions. These questions came in the form of four popular referenda – voter attempts to veto actions by the legislature. Voters approved California Governor Brown’s Proposition 30, temporarily raising both state sales and income taxes for high-income earners. The revenue will help fund K-12 education and community colleges and balance the state budget. California rejected a competing measure, Proposition 38.

Physician Assisted Suicide
In Massachusetts, voters were asked whether a doctor can be legally allowed to prescribe medication, at a terminally ill patient's request, to end that patient's life. With 93% of precincts reporting, it’s still too close to call.

Legislatures and Lawmakers
The Nebraska Legislature voted down two measures, one allowing members to serve one extra term beyond the current limit of two consecutive four-year terms, and another increasing legislator compensation. Voters in Alabama on the other hand voted in favor of a measure establishing a basic compensation plan for the Legislature tied to the median household income in the state. The measure restricts the Alabama Legislature from voting to raise their own compensation.

Voters rejected most proposed tax cuts, including a new state revenue limitation in Florida and a 2/3 legislative vote for tax increases in Michigan. Most of those that were approved were symbolic, such as a prohibitionon taxing real estate transfers in Oregon (where they do not currently tax real estate transfers).

Arizona voters rejected a measure making a temporary sales tax increase permanent. It funded various education programs. South Dakota voters rejected a sales tax increase that would have been split 50/50 between K-12 education and Medicaid. Missouri voters appear to be rejecting a tobacco increase that would have sent revenue to education, while Oregon voters approved the idea of redirecting corporate “kicker,” a refund for corporate income tax revenue that is collected in excess of a state-imposed cap, to education. Instead of sending that money back to corporate taxpayers, any future refunds will go toward education.

Voter ID
Minnesota defeated a constitutional amendment requiring voters to show photo identification when they go to the polls. This is a change in direction for this issue, with voters having approved voter ID measures in Mississippi  in 2011 and Oklahoma in 2010.

Legislators in Maryland and Rhode Island decided to let citizens decide on whether to expand casinos, and in both instances the measures passed.  A measure was also on the ballot to amend the Oregon Constitution to allow the operation of privately-owned, non-tribal casinos within the state. The measure in Oregon failed.

Citizens United/Campaign Finance
Voters in Colorado and Montana approved symbolic measures encouraging their congressional delegations to support legislation overturning the Supreme Court’s campaign finance Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission ruling.

California rejected the repeal of the death penalty and Proposition 37, which would have mandated labeling on genetically modified food.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.