WITH overtones of a national referendum, disgruntled voters in 14 states overwhelmingly approved term limits for United States representatives and senators, as well as state legislators and several governors.
Although the constitutionality of the voter decisions will probably be challenged in the US Supreme Court, the victories reflected an electorate wanting to checkmate entrenched politicians in Congress, who were perceived as making too many wrong moves, analysts say.
Proponents of term limits, elated by the results, now look toward enacting a constitutional amendment. "I would be surprised if Congress had the nerve to deny it at this point," said James Coyne, co-chairman of the Americans to Limit Congressional Terms and a former representative from Pennsylvania.
In some states, such as Missouri, Wyoming, and Florida, the voter approval was as high as 75 percent. "I think the high voter turnout helped us considerably," Mr. Coyne says. Only in Washington and North Dakota was the balloting relatively close, where voters approved the measures by slightly more than 50 percent. The other states that approved limits include Arizona, California, Arkansas, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.
According to some legal scholars, term limits could be challenged on the basis of Article I of the US Constitution, which states that there are only three qualifications for membership in Congress: age, citizenship, and residency. Term limits, say opponents, would add another qualification and therefore might be unconstitutional.
Other initiatives on state ballots stirred voter emotions as well. From junk food to abortion rights to the death penalty, the range of initiatives reflected a moody electorate bent on exercising the right to decide for themselves.
In Colorado, a controversial state amendment that would invalidate local ordinances in Denver, Boulder, and Aspen protecting homosexuals from housing and job discrimination, was approved. Two hundred homosexual-rights protesters disrupted a gathering at the state Democratic Party headquarters in Denver. They charged that the party had not done enough to try to defeat the amendment.
In Oregon, a state amendment that sought to label homosexuality as "abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse," appeared to be defeated.
Two years after rejecting a similar measure, a Martin Luther King Day for Arizona was approved, and voters there also defeated a proposed ban on abortions.
In California, Proposition 161, dubbed the "Death with Dignity Act," was headed for defeat as of this writing. The measure would have made California the first state in the nation to legalize doctor-assisted suicide by giving lethal injections to the terminally ill. The measure called for a patient to make written request to a doctor to end his or her life.
ALSO in California, voters decided that food such as candy, potato chips, and other snacks were indeed "food" and were therefore exempt from the state's 8.25 percent sales tax.
In Washington, D.C., voters rejected the congressionally mandated initiative that would have restored the death penalty, a measure that was placed on the ballot after a young congressional aid was murdered in a shooting incident.
For Maryland voters, a liberal state law that allows abortion anytime before viability of the fetus was approved. The intent was to establish broad abortion rights by state law in case the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The Maryland legislature had passed the statue in 1991, but was restricted from putting it into effect until approved by a statewide referendum.
In Colorado, measures that would have approved low-stakes gambling more widely in rural areas of the state were defeated. Voters were concerned that the nature of towns that had already approved of gambling had changed. Grocery stores, gas stations, and mom-and-pop stores had disappeared.
In Kentucky, deep in the heart of the Bible belt, voters made a turn and voted to legalize all church-run bingo games as a way to raise money.
In Massachusetts, voters decided to give the state a high excise tax on tobacco to discourage more smoking.
Question 1, as the measure was known, was not designed to raise revenues, but induce an estimated 80,000 smokers to stop smoking or never start in the first place. But voters in the state rejected a plan to change consumer packaging and reduce the size of packaging.