Republicans stormed to victory Tuesday in US midterm elections, thumping rival Democrats to clinch control of both houses of Congress and assuring a fractious final two years of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Although they have chosen the victor, voters will have also put their ballots on big decisions over guns, booze, and marijuana â€“ even bears.Â
Voters went to the polls on Tuesday to renew Congress and elect governors in 36 states, but in cities and states across the country they also made choices in a plethora of referendums.
Ballot initiatives often are the sidebar story of any election, but for some voters the debate this year over “yes” or “no” on a range of ballot questions has been the marquee issue, drawing millions of dollars to each side and, in some cases, forcing candidates running in those states to take a position.Â
One of the highest-profile battles, again, was over weed. After Colorado and Washington became the first states to effectively legalize â€“ and regulate â€“ non-medical marijuana in the last election, the pro-pot movement is trying to expand the legal weed map.
Two years ago, voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational pot statewide, and the federal government largely has stayed out of their business. On Nov 4, Oregon (which voted down such a measure in 2012), Alaska and the District of Columbia asked voters whether they, too, want to join the marijuana legalization experiment.Â
It is still against federal law to consume, sell and possess cannabis, but some 20 states have either partially or fully decriminalised it – notably including Colorado and Washington state, which took the biggest steps last year.
Pro-marijuana voices like Morgan Fox at the Marijuana Policy Project say the prospects for legalization are looking good. Polls have shown voters in Oregon and DC largely support the measures, though voters’ views toward legalizing weed in Alaska are still a bit hazy.Â
Florida, with its huge senior community, also has a question on the ballot on legalizing medical marijuana.Â
Drug Policy Action, which has received major funding from billionaire currency trader George Soros, contributed $500,000 to the Yes on 91 campaigns in Oregon. Washington DC-based New Approach PAC, tied to the family of the late billionaire Peter Lewis, gave $300,000 to the effort.Â
“Big money plays a huge role in the ‘yes’ campaign,” said Kevin Sabet, legalization opponent and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).Â
But Florida has rejected a measure that would have made it the 24th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.
Dueling gun measuresÂ
Following the elementary school shooting massacre at Sandy Hook and other high-profile tragedies involving firearms, gun control advocates have been pouring cash into legislative efforts as well as ballot initiatives. Washington State had two duelling gun measures at the ballot box.
Initiative 594 called for a comprehensive tightening of the state’s background check policies â€“ requiring background checks for virtually all purchases, including online and gun-show sales.Â
According to a report in September, the pro-I-594 funders, including former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Bill and Melinda Gates, gave $7.5 million toward its passage.Â
Competing measure I-591 is supported by gun rights advocates and would do the opposite by barring the state from enacting its own background-check laws, deferring to the federal government on that front. It also would prohibit government agencies from seizing guns without due process.Â
Don’t feed the bears
A ballot initiative which drew major national attention in Maine would restrict the way residents can hunt for bears.
Right now, hunters can use a range of tactics to kill their quarry â€“ from trapping and chasing those down with dogs, to baiting them with sweets, like jelly doughnuts. All three methods would be banned if Question 1 passes. Maine hunters would have to stalk and shoot bears the old-fashioned way, which is more humane, proponents say. Critics say it would balloon Maine’s bear population.Â
Both sides have spent some $1.6 million on TV ads to persuade the public.Â
One of the more controversial ballots was on Proposition 47 which would change non-violent/non-serious crimes like drug possession and petty theft from felonies into misdemeanours.
If passed, offenders charged with those types of crimes would be sentenced to a shorter time behind bars, which could help free up space in many of California’s overcrowded prisons.
Supporters say Prop 47, known as the “Safe Neighbourhoods and Schools Act”, would also improve public safety with millions, even billions of taxpayer dollars saved from criminal proceedings. The money would then go towards supporting education, school dropout prevention, mental health, drug abuse treatment and other programs.
People against it, however, believe the proposition poses a major safety issue. President of the California Police Chiefs Association says Prop 47 would also reduce some violent crimes to misdemeanours, including carjacking, armed robbery and kidnapping. That could mean the early release of thousands of felons, putting them back on the streets.