Affirmative Action Ban Leading in Washington
By William Claiborne and Edward Walsh
In a fiercely contested battle that could boost the anti-affirmative action movement in Congress and in states across the country, Washington state was poised last night to join California in banning the use of racial and gender preferences in government hiring and contracting and in university admissions.
With 60 percent of the vote counted, the ban on preferences was being approved, 59 percent to 41 percent.
Voters in Michigan, meanwhile, decisively turned back a ballot initiative that would have made their state only the second to allow physician-assisted suicide, while in Washington state and Nevada they adopted measures allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for patients with certain illnesses. Arizona voters, in a similar decision, effectively reinstated a 1966 citizen-approved law legalizing marijuana for medical use that the state legislature last year negated.
From abortion to the future of slot machines on Indian reservations in California and from riverboat gambling to the use of union dues for political campaigns, voters across the country also decided dozens of other often controversial questions put to them by initiatives, referenda and state constitutional amendments.
Sixty-one such ballot measures were voted on in 16 states. Despite the high number, the count fell short of the record 102 initiatives that appeared on state ballots in 1994.
Voters in Nebraska turned back a proposed constitutional amendment that would have drastically slowed the rate of growth in the state budget and returned to taxpayers any surplus generated by a healthy economy. Under the proposal, future tax increases would have been limited to the rate of inflation, population growth, the costs of temporary emergencies and new spending mandated by federal government regulations. Similarly, South Dakota voters rejected a measure that would have prohibited the use of property taxes for school funding.
Some of the hardest-fought initiative battles were waged along the West Coast. But because of the time zone difference in most cases polls did not close until midnight Eastern Standard Time returns from that part of the country were slow in coming and were not likely to be conclusive until early today.
The most important vote in terms of national implications was the Washington state initiative banning the use of race or gender preferences in government hiring and contracting and in university admissions. Exit polls and early returns showed voters favoring adoption of the ban by a 2 to 1 ratio.
The Washington initiative was copied from an initiative passed in California two years ago and financed largely by a foundation led by the chief strategist in that battle, University of California regent Ward Connerly. It was seen as a bellwether measure that could encourage similar moves in Congress and in other states. However, if approved, it also appeared likely to attract the same kind of legal challenges that kept California's ban tied up in courts for almost two years.
In California, early returns showed 60 percent of voters approving a measure to expand Indian casino gambling that sparked the most costly ballot initiative campaign in the nation's history totaling upward of $100 million and pitted several Indian tribes against Las Vegas casino owners anxious to keep California bettors on the highway to the Nevada gaming mecca. The tribes, who far outspent their opponents in a relentless television advertising campaign, argued that the right to install slot machines and video poker games in their reservation casinos is vital to financing social welfare programs for Native Americans.
Voters in Oregon, Washington state and Nevada approved measures allowing physicians to prescribe marijuana for patients with terminal diseases or suffering from the side effects of treatments for cancer, AIDS and other diseases.
A similar measure was passed in California in 1996. But it has largely been blocked from implementation by federal lawsuits and threats by Congress to enact a law that would allow the Drug Enforcement Agency to revoke the prescription-writing permit of any physician who dispensed marijuana.
In California, which recently moved its presidential primary from June to March, one ballot measure could have a major impact on the 2000 presidential campaign.
The state recently adopted a blanket primary system, in which candidates of all parties appear on a single ballot. The initiative being decided yesterday would amend the system to allow traditional partisan ballots in the presidential primary.
In Arizona, voters reinstated, in effect, the 1996 ballot initiative that not only approved medical marijuana but ended the imprisonment of people on their first two arrests for possession of several drugs. The 1996 voter initiative was essentially negated by the state legislature last year, and yesterday's vote repudiated that legislation.
Washington state voters defeated a fiercely contested measure to restrict the late-term procedure that abortion opponents call "partial-birth" abortion. Voters were asked, "Shall the termination of a fetus's life during the process of birth be a felony crime except when necessary to prevent the pregnant woman's death?," and early returns indicated that voters believe it should not be a felony. And in Colorado, voters were additionally deciding whether to require parental notification when minors request abortions.
In Alaska and Hawaii, voters were asked whether they wish to define marriage as a heterosexual union in what have widely been interpreted as attempts to head off movements to legalize same-sex marriages in those states.
There were also several key economic issues at stake in the array of ballot initiatives on the West Coast.
In Washington state, voters were deciding whether to raise the minimum wage to $6.50 an hour by 2000, thus becoming the first state to require annual increases in the base wage linked to the inflation rate.
In California, balloting was close on a measure promoted by Rob Reiner, the actor and film director, and opposed in a vigorous and expensive campaign waged by the tobacco industry, that would increase cigarette taxes by 50 cents a pack and earmark the proceeds for youth anti-smoking campaigns.
In Oregon, voters were deciding whether to approve an initiative that would prohibit public employee unions from collecting part of workers' paychecks and using dues for political purposes. They also voted on a competing measure that would amend the state constitution to include the unions' right to use some dues for political purposes.
Also in Oregon, voters went to the polls to decide whether they will ever go to the polls again. Early returns showed the initiative, which would mandate that all future elections be conducted by mail, was winning 55 percent of the vote.
Voters in Michigan, home of assisted-suicide practitioner Jack Kevorkian, soundly rejected the ballot measure that would have made the state the second after Oregon to legalize physician-assisted suicide, according to an exit poll conducted by Voter News Service for the Associated Press and five national television outlets. Early incomplete returns showed the measure failing by a 2 to 1 ratio.
The initiative, known as Proposal B, would have superseded a state law enacted earlier this year banning assisted suicide and allowed doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication on request from patients certified to be mentally competent and diagnosed by two physicians as having less than six months to live.
"Michigan wants compassion and comfort for those facing their final days," said Cathy Blight of Citizens for Compassionate Care, which opposed the initiative. "They don't want death bureaucracies or manipulations of vulnerable patients."
Many of the issues being decided by West Coast voters were also on the ballot in other states.
Missouri voters approved the so-called "boats in moats" measure amending the state constitution to authorize so-called "riverboat gambling" at casinos that have been built on artificial ponds near but not in the state's rivers. Missouri voters approved riverboat gambling in 1992, but last year the state Supreme Court ruled that gambling must be confined to the rivers' main channels, effectively threatening many of the existing casinos.
Elsewhere, the issues ranged from campaign financing to taxes to animal rights.
Measures to provide public financing to political candidates were on the ballot in Arizona and Massachusetts. The Arizona initiative would provide public financing to candidates for state office who receive a specified number of $5 contributions and accept voluntary spending limits.
The Massachusetts initiative, which was similar but would not go into effect until 2002 and only if the money is appropriated by the state legislature, appeared headed toward a defeat by 2 to 1 with 80 percent of the votes counted.
Arizona voters decided to ban cockfighting and in Missouri voters approved prohibition on any form of animal fighting. However, voters in Ohio defeated a proposed prohibition against hunting mourning doves.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company