- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Maine voters rejected doctor-assisted suicide, Colorado and Oregon voters required background checks for firearms purchased at gun shows and voters in Michigan and California trumped plans for school vouchers in yesterday's elections.

In other ballot decisions, Colorado voters rejected a 24-hour wait for women seeking abortion, and Californians seemed poised to approve drug treatment rather than jail for nonviolent "minor" drug offenders.

The abortion measure was defeated by 60 percent of Colorado voters, with 77 percent of precincts reporting. Early returns found 54 percent of California voters favoring the drug rehab alternative to incarceration.

In Maine, with 74 percent of precincts reporting, voters defeated a measure to allow physician-assisted suicide by 52 percent to 48 percent.

"We were behind by 50 points five weeks ago," Gordon H. Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, said in a telephone interview shortly before 2 a.m. today after a local TV station declared the question defeated. The Maine Medical Association has been leading the opposition to Initiative 1.

"We'd certainly rather win than lose, but this victory puts more of an onus on the medical community to improve end-of-life" conditions for patients, Mr. Smith said.

Michael Bowman, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council, which opposed the suicide measure, lauded the outcome in what he called Maine's "very hard-fought campaign."

In Nebraska and Nevada, voters overwhelmingly approved constitutional bans on homosexual "marriage" in their states. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Nevada approved such a ban 69 percent to 31 percent. In Nebraska, with 82 percent of the vote tallied, the same measure passed, 71 percent to 29 percent.

However, Oregon voters narrowly defeated a ballot measure that would have prohibited public school teaching that sanctions homosexuality. With 75 percent of precincts reporting, the measure was behind, 51 percent to 49 percent.

While Congress has stalled on further federal gun-control legislation, Colorado voters yesterday overwhelming endorsed requiring background checks for firearms bought at gun shows. With 80 percent of the vote counted, the measure passed 70 to 30. Oregon voters also approved a similar measure to close the "gun-show loophole," 61 percent to 39 percent with 63 percent of the vote tallied.

In Michigan, voters overwhelmingly defeated Proposition 1, 70 percent to 30 percent. The measure would have offered vouchers worth $3,300 to any child living in a district where fewer than two-thirds of students graduate.

The measure failed despite the millions of dollars poured into campaign ads and the backing of a coalition of Roman Catholic churches and blacks worried about the quality of education in inner-city schools.

Voucher opponents included Republican Gov. John Engler, teachers' unions, school administrators, PTAs and school boards.

Also going down to defeat was Proposition 38, the California school voucher plan. It was far more controversial than the Michigan proposal because it would have authorized annual state payments of at least $4,000 to allow any child, rich or poor, to attend a "qualifying private or religious school."

With 49 percent of precincts reporting, Proposition 38 was defeated by a margin of 70 percent to 30 percent.

These were just some of the contentious issues Americans were asked to vote on in over 200 ballot initiatives, propositions and referendums presented to voters yesterday in a total of 42 states.

With the vote in Maine, Oregon will remain the only state in the nation that allows physician-assisted suicide.

The measure was approved in that state in 1994. But because of legal challenges, the Death With Dignity Act in Oregon did not become law until 1997. To date, 43 persons have been helped to die under that law.

Michigan voters defeated a similar measure in 1998. They apparently were fed up with the exploits of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who is in jail for assisting in the suicide of a man with Lou Gehrig's disease on Sept. 17, 1998.

Pre-election polls pointed to an uphill battle for a measure to legalize marijuana in Alaska. But the Associated Press said the measure was trailing in early returns, 60 percent to 39 percent, with 10 percent of precincts reporting.

Measure 5 would make marijuana legal for all adults, not just those with medical disorders, and would shield those 18 and older from civil and criminal penalties for using marijuana or other hemp products. If passed, Alaska would become the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana for adults, even though the federal government still treats marijuana possession and use as a criminal offense.

Two more states Colorado and Nevada seemed to be on their way to joining seven others that already permit use of marijuana for the seriously and chronically ill. With three-quarters of the vote in, Colorado voters were approving the change, 52 to 48 percent. In Nevada, with 43 percent of precincts reporting, voters were supporting the measure, 65 to 35 percent.

Massachusetts voters were defeating Question 5, which would mandate the kind of universal health care in that state that the Clinton administration failed to pass nationally five years ago.

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