A setback in Ohio
The Ohio proposal had an ugly flaw. It would have given just ten pre-selected producers a joint monopoly on legal growing of marijuana, funneling huge profits to a small privileged group -- dramatically different from the freer decentralized model in other states where marijuana is legal. 58% of Ohio voters favor legal recreational marijuana, but this oligopolistic feature of the actual initiative on the table had aroused widespread opposition, even aside from the off-year turnout problem.
Nevertheless, if I had been an Ohio voter yesterday, I would have voted for the initiative. Most major steps forward started off imperfect and with galling provisions to protect entrenched interests, then were improved over time. Rather than insisting on all or nothing and getting nothing, it's better to take what you can get now and use it as a basis for getting more later. This defeat means that Ohio will continue to prosecute and imprison people who have done nothing to deserve it. A win would have ended that evil, while the ugly profiteering racket it created could have been modified and eventually done away with by future initiatives. As it is, the state is simply back to square one.
No defeat should be accepted as permanent. We've been here before. In March of 2004 Oregon's Multnomah county (which includes Portland) began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples based on its interpretation of the state constitution. I'll never forget the feeling of liberation and good cheer that prevailed for the two months the county was able to keep issuing licenses; over 3,000 gay couples were married, at a time when in most of the country gay marriage was still a concept too bizarre to seriously contemplate. But in late April a judge ordered the county to stop, pending further legal and legislative review, and in November of that year voters statewide passed Measure 36, an initiative totally banning gay marriage in Oregon and invalidating the 3,000 marriages already performed.
It was a cruel and devastating defeat, a triumph of bigotry over humanity in what even then was generally a liberal-leaning state. But, in hindsight, it was only a setback. In the years that followed, gay marriage won in state after state, despite occasional further setbacks such as California's Proposition 8, and became culturally mainstream with the support of a substantial majority of Americans. This June, less than 11 years after Measure 36, the Supreme Court swept away all state laws preventing gay people from marrying.
Today recreational marijuana is legal in just four states -- Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Colorado -- basically the northwest plus one mavericky state in the interior, as gay marriage in its early days was confined to New England and Iowa. But legal marijuana already has majority support and those who use it despite local laws number in the tens of millions, far more than the number of gay Americans. A major Presidential candidate has come out in support of decriminalization. National progress on this issue could be even faster than on gay marriage. I don't think it will take 11 years for marijuana to become legal in Ohio (and the rest of the country).
Nevertheless, elections do have consequences. Ohio wasn't the only place where low turnout did real harm. In Houston, the fourth-largest city in the US, an ordinance banning anti-gay discrimination was rejected 62%-to-38%, even though the city had previously elected an openly-lesbian mayor. In Kentucky, Republicans swept most of the state government thanks to a pitiful 30.7% voter turnout; the state's new Governor is Matt Bevin, the wingnut last seen as the teabaggers' failed primary challenger to "RINO" Mitch McConnell in 2014. Kentucky is one of Obamacare's major successes, with about half a million people having gained insurance thanks to the law (Zandar has a map showing the impact). If the new regime manages to roll back that progress, human lives will be lost because not enough voters went to the polls yesterday.
In many of yesterday's contests, the results were not only bad but also considerably worse than polls had predicted. This reinforces the view that the growing prevalence of cell phones and reluctance of busy people to participate in surveys are making accurate polling more difficult. It's a reminder that we'll need to fight like hell for every race next year. No matter how promising the polls look, nothing can be taken for granted.