Abortion, gay marriage among many hot topics in state ballot measures

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Banning abortion and gay marriage, boosting minimum wages and tobacco taxes, and legalizing marijuana were among the options Tuesday as voters in many states considered ballot measures addressing an array of the nation's most divisive social issues.

A total of 205 measures were on the ballots in 37 states - ranging from routine bond measures to a riveting contest in South Dakota, where voters chose whether to uphold or reject a toughest-in-the-nation law that would ban virtually all abortions.

Nationwide, activists on both sides of the abortion debate were on edge over the campaign. If the ban is upheld, abortion-rights supporters are likely to launch a legal challenge that could lead all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eight states had ban-gay-marriage amendments on their ballots - South Carolina's was approved overwhelmingly, with results pending in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. Though similar amendments passed previously in all 20 states to consider them, gay-rights activists nursed hopes that the streak might be broken this year, perhaps in Wisconsin.

Colorado voters had an extra option - a measure that would grant domestic-partnership rights to same-sex couples.

Conservatives hoped the same-sex marriage bans might increase turnout for Republicans. Democrats looked for a boost from low-income voters turning out on behalf of measures to raise the state minimum wage in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio.

In Missouri, a proposed amendment allowing stem cell research was a factor in the crucial Senate race there; incumbent Republican Jim Talent opposed the measure, while Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill supported it.

Missouri - along with Arizona, South Dakota and California - had a sharp increase in tobacco taxes on its ballot. In California alone, big tobacco companies spent more than $56 million fighting a tax increase that would boost the average price of a pack of cigarettes to $6.55.

Even more money - a state record of $133 million - was raised in the fight over California's Proposition 87, which would tax companies drilling for oil in the state. The proposal sought to raise $4 billion to promote alternative fuels and energy-efficient vehicles.

Nevada and Colorado both offered measures - trailing badly in the polls - that would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by anyone 21 and older. A measure in Rhode Island would restore voting rights to felons on probation and parole.

Michigan voters decided whether to bar the state government from using race and gender to determine who gets into college, who gets hired and who receives contracts.

Elsewhere, land use was a hot issue, part of a backlash against a 2005 Supreme Court ruling allowing the city of New London, Conn., to buy up homes to make way for a private commercial development.

Eleven states considered eminent-domain measures barring the government from taking private property for a private use; Florida approved its measure easily, and early returns in Georgia, New Hampshire and South Carolina showed overwhelming support for them. In four states - Arizona, California, Idaho and Washington - voters could require state and local authorities to compensate property owners if land-use regulations lowered the value of their property.

South Dakota voters could make their state the first to strip immunity from judges, exposing them to the possibility of lawsuits, fines and even jail for their actions on the bench. Opponents, including leaders of both major parties, said it would create chaos in the judicial system.

In Maine, Nebraska and Oregon, voters considered measures that would cap increases in state spending - similar to a controversial measure approved in Colorado in 1992.

Arizona voters were deciding on the most ballot measures - 19 - including four arising from frustration over the influx of illegal immigrants. One measure would make English the state's official language. Another would expand the list of government benefits denied to illegal immigrants.

Another Arizona measure proposed a civics incentive: It would award $1 million to a randomly selected voter in each general election.

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