Votes on state ballot measures run counter to tide of GOP victories

Voters approved minimum wage boosts and went against the antiabortion movement. In all, more than 140 ballot measures up for state-level votes. Here’s a rundown of major ones.

Brennan Linsley/AP
A bottle of fruit juice is labeled to inform buyers that it is free of GMOs, (or Genetically Modified Organisms), is displayed in Boulder, Colo., Oct. 23, 2014.

Raising the minimum wage and loosening restrictions on marijuana use emerged as two broad trends from an Election Day that saw more than 140 ballot measures up for state-level votes. The measures covered a range of hot topics from teacher tenure to taxes.

Washington State approved a measure extending background checks on gun buyers to private sales. Californians voted to reduce penalties for low-level drug and property crimes.

The issues nationwide were varied, but one big theme stands out: In important ways, the votes on ballot measures ran counter to the election’s tide of GOP victories for elected offices.

The minimum wage hikes, an idea championed by Democrats, were approved even in strongly Republican states, for example. And on abortion-related measures, the votes ran mostly counter to the antiabortion movement.

Those results are a reminder that the electoral “wave” for Republicans has limits. This is still a nation where the electorate can hold either party’s feet to the fire.

“What today’s midterm results say loud and clear is that voters will not simply toe the party line when it comes to economic issues,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement after the minimum-wage results. “People understand that $7.25 [an hour] is not nearly enough to make ends meet.”

Here’s a rundown of the major ballot measure results:

Abortion. Coloradans rejected a measure, for the third time in recent years, seeking to grant "personhood" to the unborn. North Dakota similarly rebuffed an amendment to insert into the state’s constitution "the inalienable right to life of every human being at every stage of development." In Tennessee, however, voters approved new legislative power to regulate abortion, which opponents fear will result in limits on women's access to the procedure.

Marijuana. Measures to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults passed in Oregon and the District of Columbia and appeared on track for passage in Alaska as well. (In the case of Washington, D.C., though, Congress has review power to block the move.) Oregon and Alaska would follow the example of Colorado and Washington State in setting up systems for regulating and taxing retail sales of marijuana. In Florida, a measure dealing with the medicinal use of marijuana fell short of the 60 percent approval needed to pass.

Minimum wage. Voters in four Republican-leaning states approved increases in their minimum wage at a time when Republicans in Congress have resisted boosting the federal minimum from $7.25 per hour. The states are Alaska (to $9.75 by 2016), Arkansas (to $8.50 by 2017), Nebraska (to $9 by 2016), and South Dakota (to $8.50 by 2015). The California cities of San Francisco and Oakland also voted to boost base-level pay.

Guns. Washington State voters approved a measure to expand background checks to private transactions and many loans and gifts. Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence hailed the vote as a symbolic victory in a nation where the public “supports expanding background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people.” According to the group, seven states will now require checks on all gun sales, up from two before the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. 

Food labeling. Colorado voters rejected a measure that would have required labels to help consumers identify foods with genetically modified organisms. Opponents of the labeling requirements, including food corporations and biotech firms, argue that GMO foods are safe and that the labeling would create undue costs, open the door to lawsuits over labels, and put an implicit stigma on GMO foods. A similar measure in Oregon was too close to call at press time.

Schools. Missouri rejected a constitutional amendment to reform teacher tenure in public schools. It would have made it easier for teachers to be fired and would have required teachers to be evaluated in large measure based on student outcomes. 

Gambling. Voters in Massachusetts were in favor of casino plans that are already on track, defeating a measure to pull out before the ventures launch. Rhode Island and Colorado rejected measures to expand gambling.

Hunting. In Maine, voters narrowly rejected a measure to ban the use of bait, dogs, and traps in hunting bears. Animal-rights advocates argued the methods were cruel and unsporting. Mississippi joined other states that have, mostly in the past two decades, enshrined a right to hunt and fish in their constitutions.

Taxes. Georgia voters supported a constitutional amendment to cap their income tax rate. Massachusetts voted to end gas-tax hikes that kick in automatically with inflation. Illinois voters gave an advisory thumbs up to the idea of a 3 percent surtax on income over $1 million to help fund education.

Elections. Oregon voters opted against revising primary elections so the top two vote-getters would advance, regardless of party affiliation.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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