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

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Meanwhile, campaigns for initiatives increasingly involved huge amounts of money and advertising, including mailers as well as – in richer campaigns – blanket television ads, cajoling voters to “read this more carefully … this measure is not what it sounds like.” Some of this money poured in from out of state, increasing many voters' suspicion of the motivations for the initiatives.

After a while, Bowser says, the voters realize they must invest more and more time to figure out their positions. “They sort of conclude, ‘Why do you keep asking me all of this?’ ” she says. And the default position becomes a rejection. “I don’t know the policy, so I’m voting no,” she says.

Others agree. “I’m a professor who looks at initiatives for a living, and I’m overwhelmed by this,” says Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento.

She notes that California had 11 propositions on the ballot Tuesday. “You’d have to surmise that the average voter can’t help but see this as a lot of work. When they are already mad at politicians and the system, that can’t help matters.”

But others say voters' memories aren't so long. “I don’t think voters at all behave in the current year based on the numbers of measures five or 10 years ago,” says John Matsusaka, director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.

'Selective social liberalism'

The success of gay marriage, in particular, was stunning Tuesday. Previously, 31 states had considered ballot measures on gay marriage, and all 31 had voted against gay marriage. On Tuesday, that reversed completely. Maine voters legalized same-sex marriage, and Maryland voters passed a referendum backing the gay-marriage law passed by the legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year. Exit polls show Washington State was poised to do the same. (Washington's mail-in ballots mean the vote has not been counted yet.) Meanwhile, Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

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