Election 2013: Six Referendums You May Not Have Known About

This post will be updated throughout the day if more results are announced.

While many people paid close attention to the governors race in Virginia, some interesting referendums made it to the ballots in various locations. Here’s a look at just a few that were voted on last night.

Portland, ME: Legalizing recreational marijuana — PASSED

After Colorado and Washington State legalized recreational marijuana, the ball continues to roll in other parts of the country. A similar initiative made it to Portland’s ballots after citizens submitted more than 2,500 signatures. The catch is that state and federal laws override legalization (albeit marijuana has already been decriminalized in Maine).

The initiative allows people over 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana — but it’s still illegal to sell it, buy it, or use it in public places. Does Portland’s symbolic vote hint at a larger legalization movement in Maine or even the northeast at large? The Marijuana Policy Project thinks so.

Albuquerque, NM: Banning abortions after 20 weeks — TO BE DETERMINED

If Albuquerque’s ballot initiative passes, it will be the first municipal ban on abortion. There’s no need to go into this vote at great length. We already know what both sides are saying about this one.

Like Portland’s vote to legalize marijuana, this measure is likely to be mostly symbolic if passed — both state and federal laws override it. And, much like the DEA sweeping in to crack down on legal marijuana growing operations in California, there is no question this would attract attention from folks outside the city’s limits. Not only can I guarantee absolute furor from the referendum’s opponents in Albuquerque, it’ll come out in the state at large and inspire shouts of “war on women!” from coast to coast.

Well, perhaps it wouldn’t receive the same amount of attention as Texas’s recent abortion law changes. But Planned Parenthood did sue the state. I imagine something similar would happen in New Mexico as well.

SeaTac, WA: Raising the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour — MAY PASS

Update (11/6/13 7:10 PM): The vote has not been called officially, but the measure is still winning with 43% of the vote counted.

Even though SeaTac, WA has the highest minimum wage in the country already ($9.19 an hour), the city’s ballots included an initiative to raise it higher. Way higher – $15.00 per hour. The union leaders pushing the measure claim that it will give SeaTac’s residents more economic mobility. People against the measure are concerned about how the money will be made up elsewhere.

Opponents assert that if higher wages drive up prices for airport food, people will vote with their feet.

“If you’re going to have a 30 percent increase in food prices, it will mean a lot of people will eat outside the airport,” said Bob Donegan, the president of Ivar’s, a seafood company based in Seattle with a restaurant at the airport. “That’s not a good thing for the airport or its workers.”

And airport food isn’t a random thing to discuss. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is in SeaTac and the main economic force for the city. But unintended consequences should not be dismissed. Not only does such a huge wage hike drive up prices elsewhere, but it undermines the free market as well.

As of this morning, the measure is winning by 54% to 46% based on 3,283 votes. However, Washington State’s mail-in system allows for ballots to be counted after election day as long as they were postmarked yesterday. So while it looks like a $15.00 minimum wage will become a reality in SeaTac, the vote has not been called yet.

New York: Changing gambling laws and opening casinos — PASSED

New York state’s Proposal 1 authorizes up to seven full-scale casinos in the state (horse betting tracks and slot machines parlors are already legal). Perhaps inspired by the success of two far-flung massive casinos in my own state of Connecticut (Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods), many in the economically troubled upstate were crossing their fingers for the referendum to pass. For example, the struggling town Nichols, NY has a race track and slot machines in Tioga Downs, which has been tapped as a potential casino site:

There is no guarantee that Tioga Downs would be chosen should the referendum pass, but if it were, the owner, Jeffrey M. Dural, said he would spend about $90 million over two years to expand its gambling operations from a video slot machine parlor to a full casino (emphasis added).

That’s the catch in what looks like a decent idea. If private companies want to build casinos in places like Nichols, NY, why shouldn’t they? Problem is that the casinos will be so tightly regulated that it’s up to New York State to decide which seven casinos will be built, even though specific geographical locations won’t be picked by the state. And why only seven?

In spite of these oddities, in my humble opinion, it would have been folly for New York’s voters to reject Proposal 1.

Colorado: 25% tax on recreational marijuana — PASSED

In order to increase education funding, the state of Colorado introduced a referendum placing a 25% tax on recreational marijuana — a 10% sales tax in addition to a 15% excise tax. While Washington State had a tax structure already placed within the initial measure to legalize recreational marijuana, Colorado’s state constitution “requires a statewide vote to approve tax increases.”

The president of Colorado’s NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) chapter takes issue with the proposal, despite the fact that NORML does not oppose taxes on marijuana:

“This is not keeping with the promise to tax marijuana like alcohol,” [Rachel Gillette] said. “It’s more like regulating the sale of plutonium than alcohol. It looks like a law-enforcement money grab.”

And Gillette makes a valid point. Colorado’s state sales tax on alcohol is only 2.9%. It’s to be expected that the state would propose a higher tax on marijuana on alcohol, but the difference between 2.9% and 10% is staggering — especially when the excise tax is attached to that number. I have no philosophical issue with sin taxes (as they are essentially use taxes), but I call shenanigans on this one.

Washington State: Labeling all genetically modified foods — FAILED

Update (11/6/13 7:10 PM): Supporters of the bill remain hopeful, however Washington’s Secretary of State announced the initiative failed.

This referendum has attracted so much outside attention and funding that it was the most expensive “initiative battle” in the state’s history. As of this morning, Ballot Initiative 522 is losing 54.8% to 45.2% with more votes to be counted. As with SeaTac’s proposed minimum wage hike, the state is waiting on ballots coming through the mail.

Want me to be completely honest? This is a bunch of bull to make hippies feel good about something absolutely pointless, not to mention the logistical nightmare of only having these labels required in a single state. I’m all for people choosing to eat food prepared in whatever manner they see fit. But what’s the ultimate result of this?

Go for it, hippies. Have a ball.