Obama Wins Re-Election, But Mixed Results on Ballot Initiatives

Seth Freed Wessler Nov 7, 2012

While eyes were glued to television screens waiting for word on the president, votes were still being tallied in a set of state ballot initiatives about the lives of people of color, women, immigrants and the working folks. Here’s a quick rundown of the results in key ballot measures.

Last night we reported some decidedly mixed early victories as they came in. Oklahoma voters banned affirmative action in government hiring and public education, while Maryland voters broadly approved a state DREAM Act, granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.

As Maryland voters made their state more inclusive to undocumented immigrants, Montana voters excluded undocumented immigrations from state services. The measure will require immigration status be checked for anyone applying for state permits, licenses, disability benefits, state employment and services for crime victims. The ACLU warns that on top of its impact on immigrants, the law would exclude many citizens who lack needed identification.

Yesterday was a day of momentous victory in the fight to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. We knew early that Maine and Maryland voters approved marriage equality initiatives and early this morning, news broke that they were joined by Washington. They’re the first states where same-sex marriage was decided at voting booths rather than legislative chambers. In Minnesota, voters rejected a constitutional amendment to explicitly exclude gay and lesbian couples from marriage.

On the labor front, results were mixed. Labor groups lost a high profile initiative in Michigan which would have enshrined collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. At the same time, unions won a victory when Michiganders voted to terminate with the state’s emergency manager law, which allows gubernatorial appointees to suspend existing labor contracts. And Californians rejected a measure that would have required unions to hand collect dues from members if the dollars were to be used for politics. Opponents said the measure would have undercut union power.

Teachers in South Dakota and Idaho are breathing easy this morning after voters rejected measures that would have stripped them of a path to tenure and their right to bargain collectively for pay and benefits. Teachers unions fought mightily and won.

California voters were slightly manic on a pair of criminal justice ballot measures. They voted to modify harsh three-strikes laws in the state, while also voting to maintain the state’s death penalty.

As I noted yesterday, California voters were asked to:

decide whether to commute the sentences of over 700 people on death row to life in prison. Then they’re asked to revise the state’s three strikes law so that mandatory life sentences are handed only to people who are convicted of “serious” felonies. Most people incarcerated on three strikes laws are locked up for non-violent crimes. And most of these folks are people of color. About 45 percent of the 8,800 current third strikers are black, though African Americans are only about 6.5 percent of the state’s population.

Voter in Washington and Colorado voted to legalize recreational pot use while Oregon voters rejected a similar measure. Pot legalization confronts a complicated enforcement dynamic because the feds still treat Marijuana possession as a crime.

Reproductive justice issues were put to voters as well. Floridians rejected an initiative that would have barred state funds from supporting health plans that provide abortions. Critics say the measure would have made it nearly impossible for state employees to access reproductive health services.

Reproductive justice advocates in Montana lost a battle against an abortion measure there. The initiative, which passed with a strong majority of votes, requires medical facilities to inform the parents if teenagers under 16 seek an abortion.

Also in Montana, voters passed an initiative to impose a voter ID requirement on voters.

Voters in five states considered a set of symbolic ballot initiatives to reject parts of the Affordable Care Act. In three states, Alabama, Montana and Wyoming, voters supported measures that rejected the health care reform law’s individual mandate to buy health insurance. Floridians rejected a similar ballot initiative. In Missouri, voters got behind a measure that will require a statewide vote or legislative approval before the state establishes a healthcare exchange.

The initiatives will have little impact in actual policy because healthcare reform is a federal law that trumps state efforts like these. Symbolically though, the initiatives send a clear message of opposition as states begin the process of implementing the part of healthcare reform over which they do maintain control: the expansion of Medicaid to more low-income Americans.

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