Taking the initiative: Seattle voter Molly Ringle prepares to make her choice. Reuters

The results from state and local ballot initiatives paint a more complex picture of the American electorate.

America, we are now being reminded, is a complicated place. At the state and city level—in states red, blue, and in-between—voters in the 2016 election used the levers of direct democracy to embrace stiffer gun regulations, looser marijuana laws, and lots of ballot initiatives aimed at providing more affordable housing. Two big transit measures, in Los Angeles and Seattle, passed, as did a passel of lesser ones. (More on that from my colleague Laura Bliss.) Also, Donald Trump is president-elect. Let us attempt to sort through this.

Climate and energy

The biggest climate-change related action of the election failed at the ballot box in Washington State: I-732, which would have imposed a rising levy on fossil fuels, divided environmental groups and briefly brought the Sierra Club and Koch Industries on the same side; it lost with 42 percent of the vote. But in Florida, the anti-solar Amendment 1 failed to trick voters into supporting a utility-backed measure that would have limited homeowners’ abilities to install residential solar panels.

Public health

Public health measures picked up support in California and Colorado, with three Bay Area cities plus Boulder backing soda taxes that were bitterly opposed by the beverage industry. Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America, called it “an astonishing repudiation of big soda.” Four states chose to legalize recreational use of marijuana, including Massachusetts—the first East Coast state to do so. Starting December 15, weed’s legal in the Bay State. (Not a minute too soon, perhaps, given the mood-altering needs of the left-leaning Northeast.) It looks like Maine is right behind them, in a very close decision. Only Arizona’s legalization measure failed, and four other states approved medical cannabis use.

Economic inequality

From coast to coast, affordable housing and inequality-fighting measures were big winners Tuesday night. Several of San Francisco’s dizzying number of ballot measures were aimed at addressing the city’s housing-price crunch and homelessness problem, while in Baltimore, which is dealing not with sky-high rents but with too many extremely low-income residents, voters agreed to create an affordable housing trust fund that (assuming the city funded it) could go toward rental assistance and the creation of community land trusts. Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington all voted to raise their minimum wage, and South Dakotans rejected an effort to lower minimum wage for workers under 18. (Voters in that latter deep-red state also spanked their payday loan industry.) In New Mexico, a measure that prohibits judges from jailing defendants solely because they can’t afford bail passed with enormous support: As my colleague George Joseph reported yesterday, former attorney general Eric Holder has raised his voice in support of national bail reform efforts, which could represent big economic savings (not to mention fewer civil rights infringements) for several U.S. cities.

For shell-shocked urban voters, such results might not ease their general sense of dismay over the mood of the electorate. But it’s worth noting that the voice of the American voter—despite the overall volume level you may be hearing over the next several days—is not roaring as one over the nation’s path forward.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of the Eiffel Tower with the words "Made for Sharing" projected on it
    Life

    How France Tries to Keep English Out of Public Life

    France has a long history of using official institutions to protect the French language from outside influence. Still, English keeps working its way in.

  2. Warren Logan
    Transportation

    A City Planner Makes a Case for Rethinking Public Consultation

    Warren Logan, a Bay Area transportation planner, has new ideas about how to truly engage diverse communities in city planning. Hint: It starts with listening.

  3. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  4. An illustration of a turtle with a city on its shell
    Transportation

    Why Speed Kills Cities

    U.S. cities are dropping urban speed limits in an effort to boost safety and lower crash rates. But the benefits of less-rapid urban mobility don’t end there.  

  5. Maps

    The Map That Made Los Angeles Make Sense

    For generations in Southern California, the Thomas Guide led drivers through the streets of Los Angeles. Now apps do that. Did something get lost along the way?

×