Snapshot of Ballot Initiatives Across the Country

In 2012, voters in 38 states considered 174 ballot measures, with a wide range of topics, including marriage equality, marijuana legalization, abortion, immigration, labor, criminal justice, euthanasia, voter ID, and affirmative action. 

Marriage Equality: 

  • In a historic development, the Maine electorate voted 53%-46% to legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the first state to do so based solely on a popular vote. 
  • Voters in Maryland and Washington upheld same-sex marriage laws passed by the legislature earlier in the year.  
  • Voters in Minnesota defeated a measure that would have defined marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

Marijuana Legalization:

  • Voters in Colorado and Washington approved measures to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.  A similar measure was defeated in Oregon.   The measures legalize and regulate the production, possession, and distribution of marijuana for adults 21 and older, and establish regulatory, licensing, and taxation frameworks for the sale of the drug.  This sets up a potential showdown with the federal government, as marijuana is illegal under federal law. 

Medical Marijuana:

  • Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes upon the recommendation of a physician. 
  • A similar measure was defeated in Arkansas.  
  • Montana voters appear to have upheld a law passed the legislature that severely restricts the use of medical marijuana in the state.  


  • With 58 percent of the vote, Maryland voters upheld a law passed by the legislature that allows certain undocumented immigrants to receive in-state college tuition if they have attended a Maryland high school for three years and prove that they or their parents filed taxes. 
  • Montana voters overwhelming approved a measure that will deny illegal immigrants from obtaining state services.  It will require every person who seeks a state service to prove his/her citizenship or immigration status.


  • California voters defeated a measure that would have limited political fundraising by organized labor unions by prohibited unions from making payroll deductions to fund political activity.
  • In Michigan, voters defeated a measure that would have given public and private employees the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions.


  • Voters in Florida defeated a constitutional amendment that would have limited abortion rights and prohibited the use of public funding for abortions.  It also would have prohibited state employee health plans from covering abortion services.
  • Montana voters approved a parental notification measure, in which physicians are legally obligated to inform the parent or guardian of a pregnant minor (under 16) at least 48 hours before performing an abortion. 


  • Massachusetts voters narrowly defeated (51%-49%) a measure that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide.

Health Care Reform:

  • Voters in Alabama, Missouri, Montana, and Wyoming passed measures blocking implmentation of the Affordable Care Act.
  • A similar measure was narrowly defeated in Florida. 

Voter Identification:

  • Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment to require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Death Penalty:

  • By a 52-47 margin, California voters defeated a measure that would have eliminated the state's death penalty, commuting the sentences of more than 700 death row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Criminal Justice:

  • California voters overwhelmingly passed a measure to modify the state's harsh three-strikes law.  Under the measure, life sentences will allowed to be imposed only when the third felony conviction is "serious or violent" or for a minor felony crime if the perpetrator is a rapist, child molester, or murderer. 

Genetically Engineered Foods:

  • California voters defeated a measure (53-47) that would have required most genetically engineered processed foods sold in supermarkets to be labeled accordingly. 

Public Lands:

  • Arizona voters defeated a measure to amend the constitution to declare the state's exclusive authority over all land within its borders, excluding Indian reservations and military bases.  

Affirmative Action:

  • Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a measure banning affirmative action in state government hiring, education and contracting.