Americans considered 160 ballot measures in 37 states during the midterm elections. A number of them dealt with social or moral issues, ranging from marijuana to global warming, from fetal personhood to Islamic law, from affirmative action to casinos. Other measures centered on taxation.
Ballot measures allow the public to decide directly on an issue, law or constitutional amendment, rather than leaving the decision to a state legislature.
Californians rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana use and defeated an effort to overturn the state’s climate and clean energy law.
On one hand, liberal George Soros’ $1 million funding of the pro-marijuana vote went up in smoke. On the other hand, conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who gave $1 million to advance Proposition 23, failed to stop the state’s effort to redress global warming.
In Colorado, voters roundly defeated a pro-life initiative that would have amended the state’s constitution to define “personhood” as beginning at the moment of “biological development,” giving full rights to unborn fetuses.
In Oklahoma, voters overwhelmingly passed an anti-Islamic ballot. The measure will prevent judges from using Sharia law, protecting the state’s constitution and saving the state from being ruled by Islamic fundamentalism.
In Arizona, voters ended affirmative action. The conservative-backed Proposition 107 passed with 59 percent of the vote. It blocks the state from giving preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.
In Montana, voters capped the interest rate of payday lenders. A few days later, some 18 payday lending offices closed.
Washington voters said no to a state income tax on the richest citizens – individuals making more than $200,000 and couples more than $400,000. Voters also repealed taxes on soda and candy. Washington now faces a $4.5 billion shortfall as a result of these anti-tax votes.
Colorado citizens went in another direction from Washington state voters, rejecting two measures that would have cut taxes. Proposition 101 would have reduced taxes on vehicles and the state income tax. Amendment 60 would have halved property taxes.
Massachusetts turned down a ballot measure that would have lowered the sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 3 percent. In a separate question, voters favored the repeal of a sales tax on alcohol, a position supported by the liquor industry.
In Georgia, voters defeated a measure that would have added a $10 fee to car registration with the revenue going to fund trauma centers.
California rejected Proposition 24, an effort to roll back tax giveaways to corporations. It would have repealed corporate tax breaks valued at $1.3 billion annually.
Maine voters supported a permit for a casino, while Oregon voters rejected a casino measure that would have allowed a casino to compete with tribal casinos.
Oregon approved a measure with stiff jail time. A third drunk-driving conviction will result in a 90-day jail sentence. Repeat sex offenders will face at least 25 years in prison.
South Dakota banned smoking in restaurants, bars and casinos.
Oklahoma and Arizona passed symbolic measures against the federal health care reform law that purportedly would protect individuals and businesses from having to purchase health care insurance. Colorado rejected a similar measure.
Given the midterm ballot votes that reflected anti-health care, pro-health care, anti-casino, pro-casino, anti-taxes, pro-taxes, anti-Muslim and pro-environment values, what can one conclude about the moral state of America?
Obviously, Americans disagree on a good number of social and moral issues.
Additionally, the November ballot measures suggest the social fabric is more complex than the simplistic narrative in the mainstream press and on cable TV that the nation has embraced the Republican ideology and rejected Obama’s agenda.
One could also conclude that caution is needed about moral stereotyping, especially considering how the anti-marijuana and pro-environment votes in California challenge the typecasting of that state’s liberal leanings.
Finally, the nation appears to lack a coast-to-coast definition of the common good. The votes against affirmative action and funding for trauma care centers bump against the effort to protect the poor from payday lenders, for example.
If love of neighbor is foundational for the common good, then goodwill people of faith have a lot of work to do.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.