Ballot Initiatives: No to Gay Marriage, Anti-Abortion Measures

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A voter studies her ballot while deciding how to vote.

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The Idiot Amendment

With a majority of more than 4-to-1, Iowa voters passed a measure that will edit out some offensive terminology from the state's constitution. Iowa Public Measure D, also known as "Idiot Amendment," will change the language of the constitution, which currently prohibits an individual from voting if he or she is deemed an "idiot or insane." For more than a decade advocates have sought to eliminate the outdated and offensive language from the state's 151-year-old constitution. Under the new measure, the constitution will now classify someone as ineligible to vote if he or she is "a person adjudged mentally incompetent."


Despite opposition from law enforcement agencies and several health organizations, voters in Michigan passed a measure that will allow patients who suffer from "debilitating medical conditions" to use marijuana for medical purposes with their physician's approval. The decision, which passed with 63% of the vote, makes Michigan the 13th U.S. state — and first state in the Midwest — to legalize medical marijuana.

Sixty-five percent of Massachusetts voters cast their ballots in favor of decriminalizing possession of less than 1 oz. of marijuana. Possession of small quantities of pot will now be punishable by a $100 civil fine. Backers of the initiative said the goal was to match the offense with a more appropriate punishment, but critics, including the state's attorney general and Governor Deval Patrick, worry that decriminalizing possession will increase drug consumption and possibly lead to more automobile and workplace accidents by people under the influence.

Official Language

Although government meetings in Missouri are already conducted in English, the overwhelming and resolute passage of Amendment 1, which bans the use of any foreign language during government proceedings, more concretely establishes English as the official language of the state. All government meetings, including those conducted over the phone or via e-mail, will, by law, be in English. The measure passed with more than 85% of the vote.

Physician-Assisted Suicide

Despite actor Martin Sheen's best efforts imploring voters in television ads to vote against the "Death with Dignity" act in the days leading up the Nov. 4 election, the measure, referred to by opponents as "assisted suicide," was passed with more than 50% of the vote in Washington state on Tuesday. The approval makes Washington the second state in the U.S., after Oregon, to legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. The law permits individuals who have been given less than six months to live by medical professionals to request — and self-administer — a lethal dose of medicine prescribed by a physician.

Kareem Crayton, a professor of law and politics at the University of Southern California and an expert on ballot initiatives, suggests that increased Democratic voter turnout combined with the stance that many libertarians take on end-of-life issues may have played a role in the measure's success. "Many libertarians think about the notion of death as one of the most personal decisions one could make," he said, adding that they don't want "the government getting in the way."


Proposition K, which would have prohibited police officers from enforcing prostitution laws and limited resources for anti-prostitution outreach programs, was defeated 58% to 42% in San Francisco. The initiative was hotly contested in the days leading up to the election, earning opposition from progressive Mayor Gavin Newsom and many others who worried that legalizing the world's oldest profession would make it easier for women to enter the sex trade, while also making it more dangerous by drawing a criminal element around prostitution. Meanwhile, advocates said it would have improved health care for sex workers and helped them report abuse.

Renewable Energy

California's somewhat controversial Proposition 7, which would have required state utility companies to generate 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, was handily defeated with 65% of the vote. Although it seemed a promising measure in one of the nation's most environmentally progressive states, critics said that existing mandates, which require utilities to generate 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2010, are already succeeding and that the new measure would only increase electricity costs and undermine progress by hampering small alternative energy companies.

California's Proposition 10, which was backed by former oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, would have established rebates for people purchasing automobiles fueled by natural gas or other alternative fuels; it was also defeated by some 60% of the vote. Critics pointed to Pickens' own vested interest in the natural gas market, and questioned the billions of dollars in taxpayer cost to implement such a program.

State Income Tax

Massachusetts voters rejected an initiative to eliminate the state income tax, echoing the defeat of a similar proposition introduced in 2002. Question 1 asked voters to support a measure that would halve the state's current 5.3% income tax in early 2009 and remove the tax entirely by the following year. Although advocates said the measure could have saved taxpayers an average of $3,700 each year; critics pointed out that the significant loss of tax revenue would undermine vital public services and force legislators to make up the revenue elsewhere — with property tax, for example. More than two-thirds of voters rejected the measure.

Stem-Cell Research

After several months of impassioned debate, Michigan voters will likely pass a proposal to amend the state's constitution and enable scientific researchers to use left-over embryos from fertility treatments for stem-cell research. Under current state law it is illegal to donate embryos for scientific research. The measure, which is winning 52% to 48% with nearly all precincts reporting, was championed by the bipartisan group Cure Michigan, which argued that the embryos would likely be discarded anyway and had the potential to yield life-saving treatments and cures. Opponents, including Right to Life of Michigan, objected to the destruction of embryos and argued that the provision would limit the legislature's oversight of stem-cell research.

See the Top 10 ballot measures.

See pictures from the historic Election Day.

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