In the first statewide referendum on transgender rights, Massachusetts voters on Tuesday beat back a repeal attempt and reaffirmed a 2016 law extending nondiscrimination protections to transgender people, including their use of public bathrooms and locker rooms.
Supporters of the law had feared a vote to repeal would prompt a wave of similar efforts to roll back protections in other states. Already, some protections at the federal level are under threat from President Donald Trump’s administration.
“When transgender rights are being threatened nationally, we absolutely must preserve the rights we have secured at the state level,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
Civil-rights activists also scored a major victory in Florida, where voters approved a ballot measure that will enable more than 1 million ex-felons to regain their voting rights. That could alter the future election landscape in the nation’s most populous swing state.
Floridians also approved a measure aimed at phasing out greyhound racing in the state, the last stronghold of the sport in the U.S.
Those were the first notable results as voters in 37 states considered an array of intriguing ballot measures — ranging from marijuana legalization to boosting the minimum wage to redistricting.
In all, 155 statewide initiatives were on the ballot across the country. Most were drafted by state legislatures, but 64 resulted from citizen-initiated campaigns, including many of the most eye-catching proposals.
In North Dakota and Michigan, for example, voters had a chance to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, a step already taken by nine other states. The ballots in Missouri and Utah included proposals to legalize the medical use of pot.
A minimum wage increase was up for a vote in two states. An Arkansas measure would raise the wage from $8.50 an hour to $11 by 2021; Missouri’s would gradually raise the $7.85 minimum wage to $12 an hour.
Medicaid expansion was another multistate topic, on the ballot because Republican-led legislatures refused to take advantage of expanded coverage offered under President Barack Obama’s health care law. Measures in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah would expand Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands more residents; a Montana measure would to raise tobacco taxes to extend an existing expansion.
Proposals to change the redistricting process so it’s potentially less partisan were on the ballot in Missouri, Michigan, Utah and Colorado.
The goal is “giving citizens, not politicians, a greater voice in the drawing of their voting district lines,” said Sam Mar of the Action Now Initiative, which provided more than $7 million in support of the measures.
A number of initiatives dealt with criminal justice or victims’ rights.
In Ohio, voters defeated an ambitious proposal to make drug possession a misdemeanor in an effort to reduce the state prison population and divert any savings to drug treatment.
With the vote in Florida, most felons will automatically have their voting rights restored when they complete their sentences or go on probation. The amendment exempts those convicted of sex offenses and murder.
Supporters said the state’s current system was too onerous. It required felons to wait at least five years after completing their sentence before they could file a request with the governor and Cabinet. About 1.5 million people are affected. Nearly all states allow felons to vote after completing their sentences.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Florida affiliate, said the result would remove “an ugly stain” from the state constitution.
“For too long, Florida has been an extreme outlier — our state’s lifetime voting ban was the single most powerful voter suppression tactic in the country,” he said.
The greyhound measure will ban betting on greyhound races starting in 2021. The sport remains active in five other states, but may be too small-scale to survive.
Proponents said racing is inherently cruel, pointing to the average of two deaths weekly from illness or injury among Florida’s 8,000 racing dogs.
While liberal-leaning groups succeeded in getting some of their favored policy proposals on the ballot in Republican-controlled states, the partisan pattern was reversed in a few states.
In Democratic-leaning Oregon, conservatives targeted two policies — one allowing use of state money to pay for low-income women to have abortions, the other forbidding law enforcement agencies from using state resources or personnel to arrest people whose only crime is being in the U.S. illegally. Oregon adopted its “sanctuary state” law in 1987, becoming the first state to do so.
Oregon and its northern neighbor, Washington, each had measures that would prohibit local governments from imposing new taxes on soda or grocery items.
Washington voters also had a chance to toughen background checks for people buying semi-automatic rifles and to make their state the first to charge a direct fee on carbon pollution to fight climate change.
Climate change also was an issue in Arizona and Nevada, where voters considered measures requiring that 50 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2030. A measure in Colorado could sharply reduce oil and gas drilling, including the method known as fracking, by requiring new oil and gas wells to be further from occupied buildings than allowed under current law.