Filling a void created by congressional inaction, voters in a scattering of states tightened gun control laws and approved increases in the minimum wage. The campaign to legalize marijuana achieved a major breakthrough, with victories in at least six states.
In all, more than 150 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Tuesday’s election.
California, Nevada and Massachusetts approved measures legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, while Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota voted to allow pot for medical purposes. A recreational pot proposal lost in Arizona. The outcome of another in Maine was too close to call.
Gun control was on the ballot in four states, including California, which already has some of the nation’s toughest gun-related laws. Voters there approved a measure that will outlaw possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, require permits to buy ammunition and extend California’s unique program that allows authorities to seize firearms from owners who bought guns legally but are no longer allowed to own them.
Washington state approved a ballot measure that will allow judges to issue orders temporarily seizing guns from individuals who are deemed a threat.
In Maine and Nevada, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent millions promoting ballot measures that would require background checks on nearly all gun sales and transfers. The measure was approved in Nevada but was rejected in Maine.
Backers of the Nevada initiative, Question 1 on the ballot, said they wanted to close what they called a loophole in current law by requiring background checks through a licensed gun dealer when most firearms change hands — including personal and online sales.
The gun background checks initiative was approved by a razor-thin margin, winning by some 10,000 votes out of 1.1 million cast with some ballots still uncounted. Question 1 drew the most attention and sparked the most debate during the campaign.
Backers said a legal loophole lets people skip background screening when buying guns from another person or online, and opponents who say it would cost law-abiding gun owners time and money without making them any safer.
They had support from the national advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, which is supported by Bloomberg.
The governor, state attorney general and 16 of the state’s 17 county sheriffs joined opponents of the measure, backed by the National Rifle Association.
They called the initiative a threat to Second Amendment gun rights that would cost law-abiding gun owners time and money.
They argued that criminals just don’t get background checks.
Opponents had financial backing from the National Rifle Association, and support from Gov. Brian Sandoval, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt and 16 of the state’s 17 elected county sheriffs have come out against the background checks measure.
Overall, the results of the marijuana referendums were hailed as historic by legalization activists, given that California is the most populous state. Massachusetts became the first state east of the Rockies to join the movement.
Florida, where the medical pot measure was backed by 71 percent of the voters, and Arkansas became the first states in the South with full-scale medical marijuana programs, which exist in 25 other states.
Collectively, it was the closest the U.S. has ever come to a national referendum on marijuana, which remains prohibited under federal law.
“These votes send a clear message to federal officials that it’s time to stop arresting and incarcerating marijuana users,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project.
The outcome will more than triple the number of Americans living in states where recreational pot is legal. The jurisdictions where that’s already the case — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia — have less than 6 percent of the population.
Elsewhere, with Congress unable to agree on an increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, numerous states and cities have taken action on their own. In this election, Arizona, Colorado and Maine voters approved measures phasing in a $12 minimum hourly wages by 2020. In Washington state, where the minimum wage is $9.47 an hour, voters approved a measure raising that to $13.50 an hour by 2020.
In Nebraska, voters reinstated the death penalty, reversing the Legislature’s decision last year to repeal capital punishment. Nebraska has not executed an inmate since 1997. Ten men currently sit on death row.