Voters took historic stands on social issues this Election Day with Maine, Maryland and Washington endorsing same-sex marriage, while Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana.
Death and taxes also took top billing in Tuesday's (November 6) election. Voters in Massachusetts rejected the “Death With Dignity Act,” leaving Oregon and Washington as the only states in the country that allow physician-assisted suicide. Meanwhile, California voted to keep the death penalty.
On taxes, voters showed they were conflicted. In California, Governor Jerry Brown all but declared victory on a measure he pitched that would raise billions of dollars in new taxes to fund education, but the margin of victory was razor thin and results were still too close to call early Wednesday, The Mercury News reported. Voters in Arizona and Missouri, meanwhile, appeared to reject moves to raise taxes intended to benefit schools.
And at the same time President Obama was winning a second term, voter reaction to his signature health care law was roiling in the states. Alabama, Montana and Wyoming approved measures challenging key provisions of the law, but voters in Florida rejected a bid to block the federal health care law's requirement that individuals and employers participate in a health care system.
See Stateline infographic: On the 2012 Ballot. Of the 174 ballot measures voters will consider on Election Day, see the updated status of some of the more contentious issues that appear in multiple states.
Of the 174 ballot measures voters considered Tuesday, the most contentious and among the most costly focused on whether to approve same-sex marriage. Thirty -two states have outlawed same-sex marriage by popular vote over the past 15 years, including North Carolina earlier this year.
Voters in Maryland and Washington had the chance to overturn new state laws legalizing same-sex marriage and both declined to do so. Both votes were nearly 52 percent to 48 percent, according to state tallies.
Maine had repealed a state law permitting gay marriage in 2009, but reversed that yesterday to approve same-sex marriage. Minnesota, which already prohibits gay marriage, set a record for the most expensive ballot measure in history as voters there rejected a bid to add a ban against gay marriage in the state constitution.
The issue drew national interest and big dollars. In Washington, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, donated $2.5 million and Bill and Melinda Gates donated $600,000 in support of gay marriage.
“This is a landmark election for marriage equality,” Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign said in a statement.
These states join six others and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex marriage.
While voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use of marijuana, Oregon rejected it.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told NBC news that even though he didn't support the measure, “the voters have spoken and we have to respect their will.” But he added, “That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly.”
The Colorado measure requires the state legislature to enact an excise tax on marijuana sales, of which the first $40 million in revenue will go to build public schools. In Washington, the measure could raise $1.9 billion in state revenue over five years, according to a report from the state's Office of Financial Management.
Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medicinal marijuana, but Arkansas voted against becoming the first state in the South to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Montana voters decided to keep a law the legislature passed that scaled back a medical marijuana measure that voters approved in 2004.
Among the tax increases considered Tuesday were dueling measures in California to raise income taxes for education; one from Governor Jerry Brown and the other from civil rights attorney Molly Munger.
With 75 percent of the precincts reporting, the governor's Proposition 30 was winning by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent. His measure calls for increasing income tax rates for those earning more than $250,000 annually for seven years and increasing the state sales tax by a quarter point through 2016.
Without the new funds, schools and colleges were facing more than a $3 billion cut because the budget the governor signed in June depended on the measure winning approval.
Munger's measure won only 27 percent of the vote. It would have increased personal income taxes at tiered rates across most tax brackets for the next 12 years.
Oregon voters decided to change the state's unusual spending law, known as the tax “kicker” by approving a measure that diverts corporate "kicker" tax refunds to public schools. As Stateline has reported, Oregon has been the only state in the country where tax revenue that exceeds what the state estimated it would collect is automatically refunded to taxpayers in the form of a “kicker” refund.
Oregon actually has two separate refund mechanisms: a personal kicker and a corporate kicker. At the end of the state's two-year budget biennium, if revenue from individuals comes in 2 percent above the state's forecasts, the additional money is returned to them, proportional to their tax bills. The corporate kicker works the same way, but for corporate income tax revenue. The ballot initiative will redirect money from the corporate kicker to K-12 education.
In another tax vote, Arizona voters turned down continuing a temporary 1 percentage sales tax increase set to expire in mid-2013.
And Missouri voters appeared to defeat by a slim margin a measure to increase the cigarette tax to 90 cents a pack, up from 17 cents, the lowest in the country. The estimated $420 million was/IS to go for tobacco prevention and education.
Washington approved a measure to make it harder to raise taxes by requiring a two-thirds vote from legislatures to enact new taxes while Michigan defeated it. And Florida rejected a bid to put stringent limits on the growth of state spending through a measure similar to Colorado's “Taxpayer Bill of Rights.”
Stateline's Maggie Clark contributed to this report