- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas delivered its six electoral votes to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and re-elected GOP Sen. John Boozman on Tuesday, as voters approved several other ballot issues, including a plan to make the state the first in the Bible Belt to legalize medical marijuana.

Trump defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a state where she served as first lady for 12 years while her husband was the governor. The once reliably blue state has turned red in recent years, and Republicans now control all of Arkansas’ statewide and federal offices, as well as a majority of seats in both chambers of the Legislature.

Except for years when Bill Clinton was running for president, Arkansas has backed the Republican candidate for the White House in every election since 1980.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Arkansas voters narrowly approved a measure that will allow patients suffering from a host of ailments to buy marijuana from licensed dispensaries. A similar proposal lost by less than 30,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast four years ago.

In Little Rock, middle school teacher Megan McCain, 29, said she voted for the proposal after voting against a similar measure four years ago.

“I have some family members with some health issues and I’m curious to see if medical marijuana would help them feel better,” McCain said. “I guess I’ve become more open-minded to it.”

Cleo Porter, a rental assistant for a property management company, said she voted against the proposal because she was worried it wouldn’t be regulated enough.

“I just think it would cause a lot of trouble right now until they define who’s going to get it, how they’re going to get it,” said Porter, 56. “I think the tax money would be awesome, but I just don’t think there’s enough controls.”

More than half of the states in the country have embraced medical marijuana, but Arkansas is the first Bible Belt state to do so, which could signal a cultural tipping point in the nation’s views on the drug.

Voters also approved proposals on the ballot that extended county officials’ terms from two years to four, allowed the governor to keep his powers when out of state and raised the cap on bonds the state can issue for economic development projects.

CONGRESSIONAL CONTROL

Republicans kept all four of Arkansas’ House seats, with the Democrats fielding a candidate in only one of those races. GOP Rep. French Hill defeated Democratic challenger Dianne Curry, whom he had vastly outraised and outspent entering the final weekend of the race. Republican Reps. Steve Womack, Rick Crawford and Bruce Westerman defeated Libertarian rivals in their re-election bids.

Boozman defeated Democratic challenger Conner Eldridge, who until recently was the U.S. attorney for western Arkansas. Eldridge had substantially trailed Boozman in fundraising, spending and the polls in their Senate race.

“Hopefully the election will show how disappointed the American people are and I think it might be something that will create a situation perhaps where people are willing to find common ground to get things done,” Boozman said.

LEGISLATURE TO STAY IN GOP HANDS

Republicans retained their majorities in the state Legislature. The GOP locked up control of the Arkansas Senate before the election and will hold at least 24 of the chamber’s 35 seats in January.

In the Arkansas House, Republicans will hold at least 64 seats and Democrats will have 25. Another 11 races were still close in unofficial results late Tuesday.

TURNOUT

As was the case in other states, many Arkansas voters cast their ballots early this year. Before Tuesday’s election, more than one-third of the state’s 1.7 million registered voters - more than 634,000 - had voted early or by absentee ballot.

The strong interest in the election was evident at polling places Tuesday morning, where voters endured long lines to make their voices heard.

In Conway, Janae Trevino said she voted for Trump after supporting President Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections. She cited concerns about Clinton’s views on abortion and her use of a private email server, and said she supported Trump’s call to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“To me, personally, I didn’t want to vote for either one. But if I had to, I agreed with what Trump had to say more than Hillary,” Trevino said.

Wendy Plotkin, a retired history professor, voted for Clinton, saying she was proud to be able to vote for what she hopes will be the country’s first woman president.

“It would have been not as exciting if it had just been symbolic and somebody who I didn’t think was very good, but I think she will be a good president,” said Plotkin, 66. “It’s part of my bucket list.”

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ademillo


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