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Voters say yes to state taxes, no to antiabortion measures

More than 150 ballot initiatives – on issues from gay marriage to renewable energy – were decided Tuesday.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / November 5, 2008

A man refueled his car with natural gas at a Clean Energy station in San Francisco in September. Proposition 7 was on California's ballot and would give the state the nation's most aggressive renewable energy mandate if passed. Utilities would have to generate half their electricity from windmills, solar panels, geothermal plants, and other sources by 2025. The proposition is not expected to pass.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/FILE

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Massachusetts rejected a proposal to eliminate the state income tax. Colorado said “no” to defining the beginning of human life as the moment of fertilization, and Florida and Arizona approved constitutional bans on gay marriage. Ohio voters, meanwhile, repealed a legislature law defining payday lending rates.

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These were among the most-watched of 153 statewide ballot propositions in 36 states Tuesday, as the trend to direct democracy continues its downward dip. (Voters faced 162 propositions in 2004 and 204 in 2006.)

Unlike the presidential and congressional elections, there appeared to be no decisive drift either rightward or leftward. Instead, voters seemed to be picking and choosing based on local conditions. Some 86 measures were approved and 56 rejected, going by tallies early Wednesday.

And despite the economy, they did not appear reluctant to take on more debt. Fourteen of 15 statewide bond measures were approved across the country.

California voters are the hardest to understand. The state is in the midst of a deep and prolonged budget crisis with an apparent structural deficit in excess of $10 billion, yet the voters just added another $12 billion in deficit spending,” says John Matsusaka, director of the Referendum and Initiative Institute at the University of Southern California. “When your income is already too low for your current expenses, you might think it is not the best time to take out another big loan to buy even more.”

California’s Proposition 11, which establishes nonpartisan redistricting for state legislators, passed after similar measures have been rejected several times in recent years. “I think the movement for more competitive elections will continue as long as the reelection rate of incumbents remains over 90 percent,” says Professor Eric Lindgren, a political scientist at Whittier College. He and others point out that Iowa has had some of the most competitive races in the country since adopting an independent commission to draw its districts without regard to where incumbents or candidates are located.

Others say the effect of such laws is not as strong as backers say, and when that is shown to be the case in California, support elsewhere will fizzle. “Backers of redistricting have to be careful of overclaiming the effects of redrawing their districts,” says Elizabeth Garrett, political scientist at the University of Southern California. “Competition does increase but not dramatically.”

Abortion initiatives defeated

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