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Ballot measures: What message did America send on Election Day? (+video)

American voters rejected ballot measures at a higher rate than usual – suggesting voter fatigue – but two big liberal social issues - legalizing marijuana and same-sex marriage - made historic headway.

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Some 174 ballot measures in 38 states on issues ranging from education to public unions to physician-assisted suicide provide many messages to America. But Wednesday morning, two important takeaways seemed clear, several political analysts say.

First, only 76 percent of the of the 115 measures put on the ballot by state legislatures passed, which is down slightly from the 85-plus percent average from 2000 to 2010, according to Jennie Bowser of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Forty-one percent of 42 voter initiatives passed.

“It’s fair to say that voters took a more negative view of statewide ballot measures this year than they usually do,” she says via e-mail.

Second, the historic success of same-sex marriage ballot measures, as well as the legalization of recreational marijuana in two states, points to evolving trends in American culture.

“If there's one trend that emerges out of the many ballot measures, it's selective social liberalism,” says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California. Legal marijuana and same-sex marriage “were fringe issues a generation ago.”

Ballot fatigue?

The more negative view of ballot measures is a result of ballot fatigue after the number of ballot measures skyrocketed in the late 1980s and early '90s, says Ms. Bowser. From the 1980s to the late '90s, the number of measures on the ballot in an average year nearly tripled, she says.

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