It was a big night for marijuana legalization. Voters in five states decided whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana: California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted in favour. Only Arizona rejected the ballot initiative. Voters in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota passed measures making the drug available for medical use. And in Montana, a measure was approved that removes provider restrictions on the drug for medicinal use.
More than 20% of Americans will now live in states where marijuana use for adults is legal, up from 5% before election day.
Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, paving the way for Oregon and Alaska to follow suit.
Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington voted to raise the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour by 2020. South Dakota’s attempt to pass an initiative that would have lowered the minimum wage for non-tipped employees younger than 18 was widely rejected.
Gun control measures
A handful of states elected to impose stricter controls on guns and ammunition purchases. In California, voters approved a multi-pronged referendum that requires background checks for ammunition purchases and bans on ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, adds penalties for not reporting lost or stolen guns, and enables law enforcement to confiscate guns from convicted felons.
In Nevada, voters approved universal background checks on private gun sales, with the exception of sales between family members. A similar proposal was narrowly rejected in Maine.
In Washington state, voters backed a measure that allows judges to keep individuals they consider a threat, such as domestic abusers, from possessing weapons.
Gender barriers broken
While women failed to shatter the highest gender barrier in US politics, women of color did achieve major milestones in Congress. Nevada elected the nation’s first Latina senator when it voted for Catherine Cortez Masto. The granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, Masto is also the first female senator the state has sent to Washington.
California elected attorney general Kamala Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican-American father, to the Senate in a race that would have broken barriers regardless of the outcome. Harris’s opponent, Loretta Sanchez, would have been the first Latina.
Harris is the first biracial woman and first Indian-American to serve in the Senate. The first and only black female senator was Carol Moseley Braun, whose term ended in 1999.
Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois born to a Thai mother of Chinese descent, will be the first woman in the Senate to have served in combat. She lost both of her legs in a grenade attack during the Iraq war.
Florida sent Stephanie Murphy to the House of Representatives, making her the first Vietnamese-American woman ever elected to Congress.
In Minnesota, voters elected Ilhan Omar, the first Somali American legislator, who came to the US as a refugee almost 20 years ago.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio booted – North Carolina’s bathroom ban governor to follow?
After 24 controversial years, Arizona voted out the self-styled toughest sheriff in America, Joe Arpaio.
A surge in Latino voter turnout helped thwart Arpaio’s attempt to win a seventh term as sheriff of Maricopa County. Arpaio gained national prominence for his hardline stance on immigration and a mandate that prisoners wear pink underwear and live in tents in Arizona’s unforgiving desert.
A week before election day, federal prosecutors charged the lawman with criminal contempt of court for allegedly violating an order by continuing to arrest immigrants with no evidence they had broken any state law. That came on top of a 2007 civil lawsuit that found against him in a claim that he racially profiled Latinos.
In North Carolina, Republican governor Pat McCrory inspired a wave of revulsion and a damaging boycott of the state by high-profile businesses and entertainment stars with his anti-transgender “bathroom bill”. He appears to have lost his re-election, with Democratic rival Rory Cooper leading by less than than 5,000 votes.
Cooper claimed victory, but McCrory insisted “the election is not over” and will not concede until counties finish an audit of votes by 18 November.