Beyond the partisan bouts, freedom took a few blows while landing an occasional punch of its own on Election Day. More than 160 ballot measures in 34 states gave voters a temporary voice in the policy-making process. Several of those ballot questions directly affected, for good or ill, the cause of limited government, personal freedom and individual responsibility.
Many voters got out on the illiberal side of the bed on Election Day. Exhibit A is the overwhelming approval of state bans on same-sex marriage. Ballots in 11 states asked voters to render their verdict on this issue. All of the proposed bans, many in the South but also the Midwest and even "progressive" Oregon, passed by overwhelming margins.
Other existing restrictions on individual freedom and responsibility were also subject to voter scrutiny. For example, Alaskans were given the opportunity to decriminalize marijuana, thereby emphasizing rationality over persecution. Nevertheless, Alaska's voters rejected by a 14-point margin a measure that would have regulated the cultivation, use and sale of marijuana for people 21 and older.
The freedom to gamble remained a hot ballot topic, as six states put a total of 13 measures before the voters. Oklahomans approved a state lottery, but Nebraskans and Californians overwhelmingly rejected casinos and tribal casinos, respectively. In Michigan, popular approval will now be required before new forms of gambling facilities can be established. The introduction of slot machines into two large Florida counties rests upon the outcome of a recount.
California voters passed a heavily marketed initiative authorizing a $3 billion bond issue for stem-cell research. This is the largest bond issue ever authorized by a voter initiative. California voters also passed a 1 percent tax on personal income above $1 million, the additional revenue supposedly earmarked for expansion of mental health programs. Maine voters rejected a proposed cap on property taxes.
Majorities in Florida and Nevada decided they wanted fewer entry-level employment opportunities in their states, because they approved increases in the job-destroying minimum wage.
The direction of education policy was on the ballot in several states. In Washington state, voters rejected an initiative that would have increased the state sales tax by 1 percent (which would have raised it to 7.5 percent, highest in the country) so as to increase public education spending by almost 10 percent. Arkansas voters rejected a property tax measure that was supposed to boost education spending. Score both votes as defeats for the anti-reformist teachers' unions.
An analysis of ballot measures nationwide finds that the average voter remains deeply ambivalent about the appropriate degree of government involvement in our social and economic lives. Such uncertainty about the boundaries of individual liberty and personal responsibility presents an opportunity for proponents of limited government to extend their efforts to publicize the benefits of freedom in both the economic and social spheres.
Patrick Basham is senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.