Voters had the opportunity to speak on several issue-based initiatives and referendums nationwide this election day. While the governor races drew national attention to Virginia and New Jersey, some of the most significant issues considered by voters this year appeared on ballots in Maine and Washington state. The big issues this year, unsurprisingly, seemed to be the economy and spending: voters considered spending limit initiatives in two states, and the state’s economic needs factored into a campaign to legalize casinos in Ohio.
A spending limit measure known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) returned to ballots this year. Colorado implemented a TABOR amendment in 1992, and according to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), similar measures have been considered in a variety of states nationwide, with Maine and Washington the latest states to put it to a vote. Joshua Culling, state government affairs manager for National Taxpayers Union (NTU), explained that the three major points shared by both initiatives are the main rights included in TABOR: limiting the growth of government to a predictable level, refunding surplus revenue to taxpayers, and allowing voters to approve or deny any new or increased taxes.
In Maine, TABOR failed to pass for the second time (the last time it was on the ballot was 2006), with 60.18 percent voting against it.
Voters in Washington state also mostly voted against (56.16 percent) Initiative 1033, another spending-cap voter initiative. The measure specifically required that revenue collected above the specific limit reduce property taxes; the focus on property tax alone was one criticism from detractors.
Representatives for ATR and NTU had hoped that states voting against out of control spending would send a message to the federal level. “The left is fully aware of the national implications,” said Kelly Cobb of ATR. He estimated that opponents of the measures were “primarily funded by union interests based in Washington, D.C.” and had outspent proponents by 10 or 15 to 1, depending on the state.
Two states voted on initiatives to retract laws expanding specific rights to homosexual couples.
The Maine referendum provided voters a chance to repeal the law passed by the Maine Legislature in May allowing same-sex marriage to be performed in the state. Proponents of same-sex marriage outspent groups seeking to overturn the law, which was also supported by Maine governor John Baldacci. The vote was considered a dead heat in the last public opinion polls taken before Election Day and remained close as voting closed Tuesday. Ultimately, the "citizens veto" passed with 52.81 percent voting to repeal the law. As a result, same-sex marriages will not be performed in Maine.
In the state of Washington, however, 51.65 percent voted to approve the expansion of the rights and benefits of married couples to domestic partners, including same-sex domestic partnerships. This is commonly considered an "everything but marriage" law.
A vote on an initiative to expand use of medical marijuana in Maine passed with 58.67 percent of the vote. Marijuana is already legal in Maine as a medical treatment, but this initiative expands the list of medical conditions for which marijuana could be used, and also creates state-licensed dispensaries of the drug.
Ohio voted (52.97 percent) to legalize casinos in four specific Ohio cities (Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus, and Cincinnati), an issue that state voters have already considered in various forms — and voted down — four times. Proponents campaigned on the economic argument that opening casinos would create tens of thousands of new jobs and generate millions of dollars to the state through a 33 percent tax on gross casino revenue.
Opponents argued that the amendment as written would overrule existing zoning laws and essentially create a monopoly for out-of-state casino owners, the same criticisms used against previous referendums. A campaign to pass the amendment was funded by prospective casino owners, while opposition funding came in part through casino owners in neighboring states such as West Virginia. Both sides poured millions of dollars into the campaign.
A long-time political campaign observer in Ohio told HUMAN EVENTS on the day of the election that he would have to flip a coin to predict the result of the close vote, but that the campaign to pass the initiative essentially had “the A-Team” working on it. He indicated that the campaign had clearly learned from previous failures and the fact that the people involved in the “yes” campaign were all Ohioans could make a difference.
The vote means Ohio has become the 39th state to legalize casino gambling.
Property owner rights
Texas passed all eleven of its state-wide initiatives, including Proposition 11 (with a wide margin at 79.69 percent) as an amendment to strengthen property owners’ rights and impose specific restrictions on government control over privately owned land. The eminent domain amendment would prohibit seizure of private property for use by a private entity for economic development.
Detractors criticized vague language in the bill that specifically bans “economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes” but allows government seizure “for the elimination of urban blight.” However, Texas state senator Dan Patrick (R), considered the most conservative member of the Texas senate, supported the measure.