Diary

Tuesday's Ballot Measure Results

Voters across the nation were asked to decide 153 state ballot measures on Tuesday. On balance, these results actually indicate an electorate that did not want a lot of “change.”

Lots of info on what passed and what did not below the fold.

Here are a few highlights:

Tax cut measures failed in Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Oregon. The Massachusetts proposal would have repealed the state income tax, cutting state revenues by about 40 percent.something with which many Red State readers would agree but that the voters of Massachusetts thought too radical. (BTW, contrary to its nickname “Taxachusetts,” Massachusetts has fairly reasonable taxes – the 23rd highest as a percentage of household income). North Dakota was especially disappointing. The proposal there would have cut both individual and corporate tax rates. With the state projecting substantial surpluses, now would have been the time. Oregon’s proposal would have reduced state tax revenues by an estimated 14%, by removing the cap on the amount of federal tax that Oregonians could deduct from their state tax burden.

Tax hikes did a little better, but not much. Colorado, which we’re told has gone hopelessly blue, rejected three tax increases: a sales tax increase to fund services for people with developmental disabilities; a “windfall profits” tax on oil companies; and an end to caps on state revenues. All three failed by large margins. Hey, if blue and green Colorado won’t pass a “windfall profits” tax on oil (with revenues earmarked for renewable energy, no less, then maybe the national Democrats should drop that idea. Voters in blue Maine rejected a beverage tax to fund more health care. Health care! Florida voted for Obama, but it also voted against a measure to raise taxes to fund education. Education!! So voters weren’t giving the state a blank check, even in blue states. Montana voters renewed a millage to support the state university, as they have done every 10 years since 1920. Minnesota voters approved a small sales tax increase to provide funding for the arts.

As usual, most bond issues passed. Voters generally understand that bonding is an efficient way to fund infrastructure projects. California voters narrowly passed a $10 billion bond issue to build high speed rail. Spending the money on roads would have done much more to reduce congestion and probably pollution in the state. But they rejected California’s $5 billion bond for renewable energy bonds.

California’s ill-considered proposal to require 20% of energy to come from “renewable sources” by 2010 also failed, by an encouraging 65-35 margin. But renewable energy scored a win in Missouri, where voters approved a measure requiring utilties to generate more “alternative” energy, for example by spoiling Missouri’s beautiful countryside by placing visually ugly windmills everywhere. Yuck. Voters in Florida approved a measure allowing homeowners to modify their houses for renewable energy without getting a valuation increase. Was this a liberal “renewable energy” measure or a conservative “tax cut” measure? Hmmm. I tend to think the latter, since conservatives like clean energy, too. Anyway, seems to have been smartly designed.

Voters in Arizona and Ohio approved laws heavily regulating the “payday lending” industry. These were populist crusades that were hard to fight off – payday lenders indeed charge some very high rates. But people should be very uncomfortable when the state comes in after the fact and decides that people don’t know what they’re doing when they make decisions to borrow, and when it villifies and targets an industry for destruction.

California passed a law requring humane treatment of farm animals. Read Bush/Palin speechwriter Matthew Sculley’s “Dominion” if you don’t have sympathy for this issue.

Turning to non-economic issues, abortion restrictions failed in three states. In California, a parental notification law failed by 52% to 48%. South Dakota voters rejected a ban, and Colorado voters decisively rejected a measure to effectively criminalize abortion, with 73% voting no.

On same sex marriage, 28 states approved bans via referenda in the last decade – Arizona was the lone state whose voters had rejected a ban. This year, though, Arizona approved the ban by a 57% to 43% margin. California approved a ban by a narrow 53-47% margin. Arkansas passed a measure preventing unmarried couples from adopting children, regardless of whether the couple is same sex or opposite sex. Apparently, however, single gays can still adopt in Arkansas.

Gambling did OK, with Arkansas voters approving a new lottery and Maryland voters approving slots to fund higher education. Colorado and Missouri voters voted to allow more casinos. Ohio voters turned down a casino bill, but the reasons probably had more to do with writing a monopoly for a single casino operator into the state Constitution, than it did with opposition to gambling. Maine voters also rejected a new casino, and Massachusetts voters approved a ban on the state’s longstanding dog racing industry.

On Affirmative Action, Colorado voters narrowly defeated a measure prohibiting affirmative action, 50.6% to 49.4%. I believe they are the first state ever to reject such a measure at the ballot box. Nebraska voter, however, approved such a measure by nearly 60%.

Michigan voter overwhelmingly approved a bill allowing the use of medical marijuana. Look for an effort to pass this measure in another state in two years. Also, Massachusetts decriminalized possesssion of small amounts of marijuana. But California voters overwhelming voted against a decriminalization measure.

In Washington state, voters approved physician assisted suicide for competent, adult patients.

There was more: California voters appear to have narrowly approved a non-partisan redistricting plan, but there are still votes to count; term limits remain popular, with a proposal to repeal them meeting a typically crushing defeat in South Dakota. Oregon voters rejected a change in the state’s election system, to a Louisiana-type run-off plan. Colorado voters narrowly passed campaign finance restrictions on certain state contractors. The pattern that usually holds clear, though, is that there is no pattern.

Ballot referenda tend, year after year, to avoid major trends. I think that the medical marijuana vote in Michigan and the assisted suicide vote in Washington emphasize the empathy Americans feel for the severely ill, and their own anxiety about dying in pain. Term limits remain popular, but other proposals to change elections remain much less popular in practice than in theory, tending to lose (as in Oregon this year) or win narrowly, as in California and Colorado.

There is usually voter resistence to higher taxes, but also to large tax cuts.

Moreover, these results do not obviously track a states “red” or “blue” voting pattern.

My read is that Americans don’t really want major change. The appeal of Senator Obama’s “change” platform was based on dissatisfaction with how things were being run – but voters don’t want fundamental change. They just want their 401k to do allright; and they want decent schools and decent health care, but they don’t want you messing much with their health care or schools. They want to protect the environment but not destroy the economy to do it.

That desire for “normalcy” is truly the reality of America still being a “center-right” country, and it holds some hints for returning to a more conservative administration and congress in the coming years.

For a pithy summary of ballot issues and the election more generally, see the lively if sporadic blog of iconoclast David Mayer.