Wednesday, Nov 7, 2012 8:45 PM UTC

Ballot measures: A rundown of results

States weighed in on issues including the death penalty, GMO labeling, human trafficking and racist language

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 (Credit: Svablar via Shutterstock)

Voters around the country weighed in Tuesday on a cornucopia of ballot measures, offering a partial insight into the state of opinion around the nation on issues ranging from genetically modified foods to the death penalty.

Racist language to remain in Alabama Constitution — but perhaps with good reason:

Alabama voted against a measure to remove references to segregation in its state Constitution, which includes the line, “separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children.” Amendment 4 would have removed the racist language, but, its opponents argued, it carried with it a series of other, largely tax-based contentions. As the New York Times reported in advance of the vote:

Amendment 4 … would eliminate obsolete but lingering passages from the State Constitution mandating separate schools “for white and colored children.” It would leave the rest of the section concerning schools untouched. But the 111-year-old Alabama Constitution is so convoluted, and legal fights over it have gone on so long, that there is fierce disagreement over what the rest of the section actually is.

What appeared to be a simple act of reformist editing has led to disputes over its effect on the state’s obligations to provide public education, the disposition of several past court rulings and, in a larger sense, the degree to which racist language can be surgically removed from a document that was constructed primarily on the ground of racism.

Professor emerita at the University of Alabama School of Law Martha Morgan explained the deeper problem with the cosmetically appealing Amendment 4: “By cutting the explicit racism while leaving the rest in, she said, the vote could jeopardize future legal challenges to the state’s school financing structure, substantially worsening inequality while cosmetically addressing it.” The ballot measure earned only 43 percent approval, while 60 percent was needed to pass. Its major opponents, far from agreeing with the Constitution’s racist language (which is legally obsolete), say any rewrite should also eliminate the phrasing that denies state residents’ constitutional right to an education.

Genetically modified food won’t be labeled in California:

As Salon reported Monday, food industry giants like Monsanto and Dupont jointly spent $45 million to defeat California’s Proposition 37, which would have required genetically modified foods to be labeled as such in supermarkets. The heavy spending narrowly did the trick — Proposition 37 supporters lost by a small margin with 47 percent of the vote.

“Yesterday we showed there is a food movement in the United States and it is strong, vibrant and too powerful to stop. We always knew we were the underdogs, and the underdogs nearly took the day,” the California Right to Know campaign (which spearheaded support for the measure) said in a statement Wednesday.

A number of agribusiness opponents argued that 37 was a problematic linchpin for a burgeoning food movement; it relied on controversial science about the risks of genetically modified food, without directly challenging Monsanto’s business practices. However, the fight over Proposition 37 has certainly forced open the debate about GM foods and their producers.

Human trafficking — a misleading ballot measures wins over Californians:

Despite protestations from anti-human trafficking activists, sex workers, lawyers and experts, the success of Proposition 35 in California was a foregone conclusion. The ballot measure, which will bring harsher fines and sentencing to convicted human traffickers, was misleadingly framed as a referendum on slavery — little wonder it succeeded with 81 percent of 9 million votes cast. Sex worker advocates and activists on behalf of coerced laborers outside the sex industry will now fight against the law’s potentially dangerous implications, including the punishment of consensual sex workers as sex offenders and the failure to recognize the huge problem of human trafficking outside of sex slavery.

California narrowly holds on to death penalty:

California’s Proposition 34, an initiative to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole, was defeated by a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent. However, anti-death penalty advocates have taken the results as a positive sign of increasing opposition to capital punishment. “The results of the referendum in California are a clear indication that an increasing number of voters have changed their minds on the death penalty,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, in a statement. “Such a costly, ineffective system no longer has the support of a large majority of the public.”

The DPIC noted Wednesday that the 1978 ballot initiative that enacted California’s death penalty statute passed with the support of 71 percent of the voters. In 1986, California Chief Justice Rose Bird was removed from office by 67 percent of voters because she was perceived as blocking the death penalty. Tuesday’s result thus evidences more ground gained in the fight against the death penalty, which has a long way to go before abolition is secured.

Floridians reject anti-choice amendment:

Voters in Florida have rejected a ballot measure that would remove women’s right to reproductive “privacy” from the state’s constitution.

“By preserving women’s reproductive rights under the Florida state Constitution, women and families will continue to have all options available to them so they can make the best healthcare decisions for their circumstances,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, following the news Tuesday.

Amendment 6, proposed by GOP state legislators, would have enabled the state to enforce a host of possible abortion restrictions and laws. As our own Irin Carmon has previously noted , antiabortion proponents rarely succeed with ballot measures.

Symbolic-only Obamacare measures do well:

Although Obama’s reelection assures healthcare reform, a handful of states considered ballot measures that symbolically opposed it, but would have no legislative impact. In Alabama, Montana and Wyoming, voters supported measures that rejected the healthcare reform law’s individual mandate to buy health insurance. Floridians rejected a ballot initiative of the same sort, while Missouri approved a measure that would require a statewide vote or legislative approval before the state establishes a healthcare exchange. It’s a lot of sound and fury, but of little signification now that national healthcare reform is assured.

A big night for marijuana:

On Tuesday both Colorado and Washington state legalized the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational use, while in Oregon a legalization initiative was narrowly defeated. Meanwhile, Massachusetts approved the use of medical marijuana. For more detail of the significance of these results to the U.S. war on drugs, see my earlier article here.

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