Florida passes amendment to restore felons' voting rights

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Potentially altering the election landscape in a key swing state, Florida voters Tuesday approved a ballot measure that will enable more than 1 million ex-felons to regain their voting rights.

Floridians also approved a measure aimed at phasing out greyhound racing in the state, the last stronghold of the sport in the U.S.

Those were the first notable results as voters in 37 states considered an array of intriguing ballot measures — ranging from marijuana legalization to boosting the minimum wage to civil rights protections for transgender people.

In all, 155 statewide initiatives were on the ballot across the country. Most were drafted by state legislatures, but 64 resulted from citizen-initiated campaigns, including many of the most eye-catching proposals.

In North Dakota and Michigan, for example, voters had a chance to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, a step already taken by nine other states. The ballots in Missouri and Utah included proposals to legalize the medical use of pot.

A minimum wage increase was up for a vote in two states. An Arkansas measure would raise the wage from $8.50 an hour to $11 by 2021; Missouri's would gradually raise the $7.85 minimum wage to $12 an hour.

Medicaid expansion was another multistate topic, on the ballot because Republican-led legislatures refused to take advantage of expanded coverage offered under President Barack Obama's health care law. Measures in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah would expand Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands more residents; a Montana measure would to raise tobacco taxes to extend an existing expansion.

Proposals to change the redistricting process so it's potentially less partisan were on the ballot in Missouri, Michigan, Utah and Colorado.

The goal is "giving citizens, not politicians, a greater voice in the drawing of their voting district lines," said Sam Mar of the Action Now Initiative, which provided more than $7 million in support of the measures.

Ohio's ballot included an ambitious proposal to make drug possession a misdemeanor in an effort to reduce the state prison population and divert any savings to drug treatment.

Florida's measure on felon voting rights was among those placed on the ballot by citizen initiative. Under its terms, most felons will automatically have their voting rights restored when they complete their sentences or go on probation. The amendment exempts those convicted of sex offenses and murder.

Supporters said the state's current system was too onerous. It required felons to wait at least five years after completing their sentence before they could file a request with the governor and Cabinet. About 1.5 million people are affected. Nearly all states allow felons to vote after completing their sentences.

While liberal-leaning groups succeeded in getting some of their favored policy proposals on the ballot in Republican-controlled states, the partisan pattern was reversed in Democratic-leaning Oregon and Massachusetts. In both states, conservatives used the initiative process in a bid to overturn existing policies.

The target in Massachusetts was a 2016 law extending nondiscrimination protections to transgender people in their use of public accommodations. It was the first-ever statewide vote on this question, occurring as President Donald Trump's administration moves to weaken civil rights protections for transgender Americans.

Conservatives in Oregon targeted two policies — one allowing use of state money to pay for low-income women to have abortions, the other forbidding law enforcement agencies from using state resources or personnel to arrest people whose only crime is being in the U.S. illegally. Oregon adopted its "sanctuary state" law in 1987, becoming the first state to do so.

Oregon and its northern neighbor, Washington, each had measures that would prohibit local governments from imposing new taxes on soda or grocery items.

Washington voters also had a chance to toughen background checks for people buying semi-automatic rifles and to make their state the first to charge a direct fee on carbon pollution to fight climate change.

Climate change also was an issue in Arizona and Nevada, where voters considered measures requiring that 50 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2030. A measure in Colorado could sharply reduce oil and gas drilling, including the method known as fracking, by requiring new oil and gas wells to be further from occupied buildings than allowed under current law.

Curiously, slavery also was on the Colorado ballot. A proposed amendment would remove language in the state Constitution allowing slavery and involuntary servitude to be used to punish a crime.

The two most expensive ballot-measure campaigns — each generating more than $100 million in contributions — were in California. One of those would cap profits for dialysis clinics; the other would allow local governments to expand rent control.