By Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 1:38 AM
California voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have made their state the first in the union to legalize the personal use and possession of marijuana.
Voters there also considered whether to make it easier for state legislators to pass a budget, to suspend a state-passed global warming bill and to hand over the role of creating legislative districts to a nonpartisan commission.
The measures were among 160 put to voters around the country, on issues ranging from the new health-care law to ideas for balancing state budgets.
California was not the only state dealing with marijuana-related questions. In South Dakota, voters rejected an effort to legalize medical marijuana - which California and 13 other states have done over the past 15 years. Arizona voters were considering a similar measure.
In Oklahoma, voters overwhelmingly backed a measure banning the use of international law, including Islamic law - also known as sharia - in state courts. Oklahoma voters also approved a measure that would allow them to opt out of the requirements of the health-care bill passed by Congress this year. Similar measures were on the ballot in Arizona and Colorado.
Florida voters passed amendments that would restrict the state legislature's latitude in drawing legislative districts - a process vulnerable to the abuse known as gerrymandering.
In Colorado, voters rejected an anti-abortion rights measure to extend the definition of "personhood" in the state constitution to "the beginning of the biological development."
Taxes were a key theme in many states struggling to balance budgets. Colorado voters rejected a trio of ballot amendments that proposed cutting property taxes, reducing the state income tax and prohibiting the state from borrowing money from outside sources.
California voted on dropping the requirement for passing a budget from two-thirds of the legislature to a simple majority, and Washington state voted on whether to institute a two-thirds requirement to pass bills creating taxes.
A separate initiative in Washington would impose an income tax on those making more than $200,000 a year and reduce property taxes. .
The measures around the country represented a mishmash of issues, giving people a chance to vote on the state of politics rather than just choose between the two major political parties, said Christopher Mann, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Miami.
Another federal issue on the ballot was the Employee Free Choice Act, which includes a "card check" provision that opponents say would eliminate the secret ballot in union elections.
Voters in South Carolina and South Dakota approved a secret ballot for union elections, and voters in Arizona and Utah appeared likely to back similar measures.
In addition, early returns showed Maryland voters on track to approve a ballot question calling for a constitutional convention for the first time since 1967. Iowa, Michigan and Montana were also holding regularly scheduled votes on whether to draw up new constitutions.
Despite the presence of many high-profile, anti-tax ballot measures across the country, many of them stood little chance of passing, said Jennie Drage Bowser, senior fellow and elections analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"They're not put on the ballot by a big band of dedicated volunteers. There's big money behind it," Bowser said. "Their presence on the ballot is not indicative of a strong anti-government mood. Their passage [Tuesday] would be - and that would be unusual."