The selection of candidates for local, state, and federal offices were not the only choices confronting voters on Election Day in a number of states across the nation. In fact, voters in 32 states decided over 100 statewide ballot measures on November 3. Below is an overview of some of these voter initiatives and referenda impacting the sanctity of life, drugs, gambling, and marriage & sexuality.
Sanctity of Life: On the pro-life front, this election was a mix of wins and losses. On the positive side, Louisiana voters passed the “Love Life Amendment,” which adds language to the state constitution stating, “To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
On the negative side, a ballot initiative in Colorado that would have prohibited abortion after an unborn child reaches 22 weeks of gestation failed after receiving only 41 percent of the vote. Voters in California approved a Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative that issues $5.5 billion in bonds for the state’s stem cell research institute. It is estimated that at least $27 million will be used for research using embryonic stem cells.
Drug Legalization: Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota approved legalizing the possession and use of recreational marijuana. Mississippi passed two ballot measures that effectively allow for the use of medical marijuana by qualified patients, and South Dakota also supported a medical marijuana initiative. Most notably in Oregon, voters approved a wide-sweeping measure decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of controlled substances, such as heroin, cocaine, and meth—becoming the first U.S. state to take such action.
Gambling Expansion: On the gambling front, voters in Maryland expanded commercial gaming by authorizing sports and events betting. State revenue raised by these activities will be directed primarily towards public education. Similarly, South Dakota supported legalizing sports betting within Deadwood, South Dakota. Three different initiatives passed in Nebraska to allow, authorize, regulate, and tax gambling at licensed racetracks in the state.
Marriage & Sexuality: Nevada voters approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that defines marriage as between couples regardless of gender, becoming the first state to officially recognize “same-sex marriage” in their state constitution. The amendment does allow religious organizations and clergy to refuse to solemnize a marriage if it would violate their religious beliefs, but it repeals the part of the state constitution that recognizes that marriage is between a male and a female.
In Utah, a constitutional amendment was approved to replace gendered language in the state constitution with gender-neutral language. And in Washington State, voters approved a highly controversial provision that requires public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health instruction to all students, despite widespread parent-led resistance against the measure.
North Carolina did not have any statewide ballot measures on the General Election ballot this year.