From Marriage Equality to Corporate Personhood, What Happened on the Ballot This Year?


We all had say on some important state and local policy matters. Which propositions won and which ones were defeated in this year’s election?

We know who won the race for the White House, and some of us might also which individuals won the races for Congress. But as Congress reconvenes today to get back to the task of policy-building, we shouldn’t forget that We the People already had say on some important state and local policy matters. Here’s what happened at the ballot box.

Marriage Equality

In Washington and Maryland, a gay marriage measure was approved 52 percent to 48 percent. Meanwhile, voters in Maine overturned an existing ban 53 percent to 47 percent and Minnesota voters rejected a proposed ban on gay marriage. The passage of these measures marks the first time marriage rights have been extended to same-sex couples by popular vote. On the other side, Oregon failed to pass its marriage equality proposition.


There were six measures this election aimed at legalizing and regulating marijuana. Two states voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use: Colorado passed its measure with 53 percent support and Washington approved its measure with 55 percent of votes. Oregon, as with marriage equality, rejected legalization with only 45 percent of voters supporting the measure.

Under these new recreational marijuana measures, it’s legal for anyone 21 and older to possess up to one ounce (28.5 grams) of the drug. It also permits marijuana to to be legally sold and taxed at state-licensed stores similar to how alcohol is currently sold.

New medical-marijuana measures were less successful. Montana voters rejected a measure that would overturn a state law that restricts the use and distribution of medical marijuana, and Arkansas voters rejected legalization of medical marijuana by a tiny 1 percent margin.


In California, Proposition 30 passed with 53.9 percent of the vote. Sponsored by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, Prop 30 will increase income taxes for those who earn over $250,000 for seven years and increase the state sales tax by 0.25 percent for four years. Exit polls show that 28 percent of those who cast ballots on this measure were between the ages of 18 and 29. Under the measure, 89 percent revenue will be allocated to K-12 schools and 11 percent to community colleges.

Surprisingly, support for public schools and teachers unions also fared well in some of the reddest states. In South Dakota and Idaho, voters rejected measures that would phase out tenure in favor of a merit-based pay system. Idaho also rejected a measure that would have limited the collective bargaining rights for teachers.


With a strong margin — 59 percent to 41 percent — Maryland voters passed its version of the DREAM act which will allow undocumented immigrants the same in-state tuition breaks as legal residents. This represents the first time by popular vote that a state will allow immigrant students access to in-state tuition rates and state financial aid. In Montana, however, voters supported a measure, by a 4-1 margin, that will deny various state services to undocumented immigrants. The measure will also require immigration status to be checked for anyone applying for state permits, licenses, disability benefits, state employment and services for crime victims.


Voters in Florida rejected the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” amendment that would have limited private insurance coverage of abortion care and barred public funds from being used to pay for abortions. Also related to abortion, Montana approved a measure, by 70 percent of the vote, that will require parental notification prior to an abortion for minors aged 15 and younger.

Criminal justice

California’s ballot had three important criminal-justice measures. 53 percent of voters rejected Proposition 34 that sought to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. Voters did, however, pass Proposition 36 modifying elements of California’s “Three Strikes” Law by 68 percent of the vote. A measure focused on human trafficking also passed with 81 percent of the vote. The result will be longer prison terms for human traffickers and the mandatory registration of all convicted sex traffickers as sex offenders.

Affirmative action

Oklahoma voters, by a 3-to-2 margin, approved the Affirmative Action Ban Amendment which prohibits preferential treatment based on race or sex in public employment, education and contracts. Affirmative Action is also coming up for nationwide review in the Supreme Court this term.

Electoral reform

By 53 percent, Minnesota voters rejected a voter-ID measure that would have required that all voters to show photo identification before entering the ballot booth.

The proposal for an open primary system failed in Arizona by a 2-to-1 margin. In the proposed top-two open primary system, candidates would run on the same primary ballot regardless of party affiliation.

Colorado voters approved the Corporate Contributions Amendment by a 3-to-1 margin. This measure states that Colorado’s legislative representatives should support federal legislation for limiting campaign contributions and spending.

In Ohio, voters rejected a measure that would create a 12-person citizen commission to draw legislative and congressional district maps, rather than leaving this in hands of state lawmakers. Whereas in California, voters supported the measure that would keep the redistricting commission in place for drawing the State Senate district boundaries.

Corporate personhood

Voters in Montana and Colorado agreed on the need to amend the U.S. Constitution to revoke the overwhelming power of corporate money in elections post Citizens United. In Montana, over 75 percent of voters supported an initiative that will direct the state’s congressional delegation to help pass an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution revoking corporate personhood. In Colorado, Amendment 65 also won with a 3-1 margin. Slightly different from Montana, this measure will instruct Colorado’s congressional delegates and state legislature to support an Amendment that allows limits on campaign contributions and spending, presumably overruling Buckley v Valeo.

On a local level, San Francisco voters also passed a proposition to repeal the notion of corporations as people imbued with constitutional rights.

Genetically modified food

A California a measure that wanted to impos labeling requirements for genetically modified food was narrowly defeated by 53 percent of the vote. The measure would have required the labeling of all food products containing genetically modified organisms within two years. Now GMO labeling proponents are looking to the Farm Bill for federally mandated labeling requirements.

About Sona Makker

Sona is a first-year law student studying technology law at Santa Clara University. She’s an advocate for online privacy, digital rights, and public access to the public domain. If she’s not arguing with her siblings over whether This American Life is better than Radiolab, you’ll probably find her whipping up vegetarian dishes, or attempting to do a headstand in yoga class.
Posted in: Election, Policy, Politics