Ballot boxing

Voters duke it out over guns, gays, pot and euthanasia at the polls.

Topics: Abortion, Gay Marriage, Guns, Gun Control,

With memories of the Columbine High School massacre still fresh in their minds, Colorado residents voted to require background checks at gun shows. Robin Anderson, who supplied Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold with one of the guns used in the killings, purchased the weapon at a gun show. Had the law been in place, it might have deterred her from buying it.

Social issues like gun control and abortion have played a hot role in the presidential race and the battle for Congress. But voters also faced direct proposals on everything from gay marriage to legalizing pot. Here’s a roundup of the hottest state proposals and how they fared:

Drugs:

Northern California’s Mendocino County became the first in the nation to vote to approve growing marijuana plants. Measure G, which won 58 percent of the vote, will allow each adult resident to cultivate up to 25 pot plants.

Of course residents will still have state and federal laws to contend with — they can’t officially legalize growing — but the measure makes busting growers the lowest priority for area police. Sheriff Tony Craver himself even signed a petition to put Measure G on the ballot but in the end he opposed it. After all, he’ll still be obligated to bust people if he does catch them growing. “I’m worried about the frustration and heartaches it’s going to cause,” the sheriff said.

As proof of just how liberal the area’s attitudes are toward the green stuff, Measure G faced no organized opposition. And the Associated Press reports that many of those who did oppose it were growers themselves, concerned about a glut of supply affecting their profits. An ounce currently costs about $400 in Mendocino.

Colorado voted to legalize medical marijuana, and Nevada voters appear likely to do the same. Alaskans, meanwhile, voted against a proposal to legalize pot for all uses — medical or otherwise.

But a far more innovative initiative passed in California, and it addresses what proponents call “the failure of the drug war.” Proposition 36 will require treatment — not jail time — for nonviolent, first-time drug offenders. As is usual in California, celebrities made their voices heard. Philanthropist George Soros and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown backed the measure, but actor Martin Sheen, former first lady Betty Ford and her namesake drug treatment center opposed it.



Abortion:

Colorado voters rejected a 24-hour wait for women seeking abortions, with more than 60 percent of voters saying no to the measure.

Education:

Michigan and California voters knocked down school voucher initiatives, while two other controversial education measures passed in Arizona and Washington.

Michigan’s Proposition 1 would have given about $3,300 in tuition vouchers to kids living in districts that fail to graduate a minimum of two-thirds of their students, and would have required teacher testing in academic subjects. Amway founder Rich DeVos put up millions of dollars in support of the measure; Republican Gov. John Engler opposed it.

A voucher proposal in California to give students $4,000 for private schools, regardless of their parents’ income, failed by more than 30 percent. The proposal was funded almost exclusively by high-tech investment mogul Tim Draper, who poured in a whopping $23 million. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis opposed it. But voters gave the nod to a charter school proposal in Washington.

Meanwhile, another approach to education funding won by a clear margin in South Carolina, as voters there approved plans to create a state lottery to fund public schools.

Arizona said “adios” to bilingual education by a 2-to-1 margin. California software millionaire Ron Unz spent about $200,000 backing that measure — he spent much more on a similar measure that passed two years ago in California and led to higher test scores among immigrant students.

Guns:

Guns were a hot issue in the campaign, and the Columbine shooting inspired voters in Colorado and Oregon to approve a measure requiring background checks on purchases at gun shows.

But Second Amendment advocacy won out in Virginia, which declared hunting and fishing constitutional rights.

Crime:

New Jersey residents now plan to take Megan’s Law to the next level — they voted overwhelmingly to put the state’s sex offender database online. Many states already post such information on the Web, but New Jersey’s Question 2 changes the state’s constitution to give the freedom to distribute information about an offender precedence over privacy concerns.

Doctor-assisted suicide:

A euthanasia measure was narrowly defeated by Maine voters. The Maine Medical Association and the Roman Catholic Church pooled more than $1 million to fight the measure. The Maine proposal was modeled after one approved in Oregon, under which 43 people have so far chosen to end their lives.

Gays and lesbians:

Nebraska and Nevada now officially define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, following successful passage of anti-gay-marriage initiatives in both states. And in Oregon, a narrow 51 percent of voters rejected a measure that would have forbidden education about homosexuality in public schools — from elementary schools to community colleges.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, a measure that would have extended civil rights protections to gays and lesbians was narrowly defeated in Maine. The state’s Catholic bishop, Joseph Gerry, had given his flock the blessing to vote in favor of the measure, which would have banned discrimination in housing, credit and employment on the basis of sexual orientation. (Religious groups would have been exempt from the measure.)

Fiona Morgan is an associate editor for Salon News.

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