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Pot use OK’d; same-sex marriage, charter schools leading

Two supporters of Washington state’s Referendum 74 kiss as they celebrate early election returns on Tuesday in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. (Associated Press)
Two supporters of Washington state’s Referendum 74 kiss as they celebrate early election returns on Tuesday in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. (Associated Press)

Same-sex couples may be able to marry in Washington as early as next month, as the state’s voters seemed to be narrowly approving a law that was passed then suspended earlier this year.

More certain for December, adults who use marijuana won’t need to fear arrest from state or local law enforcement officials, at least. By a larger margin, voters were approving a ballot measure that legalizes recreational marijuana use for adults, although it keeps it illegal for those under 21. The drug will still be illegal for everyone under federal law, however, and the state is headed for a new chapter in its 12-year-fight with the other Washington over who knows best about marijuana.

Voters also gave a razor-thin lead to a plan to allow public school districts to set up charter schools and for the fifth time told the Legislature it needs a two-thirds majority to pass tax increases.

Ballot counts will continue around the state for about two weeks, but any law that is passed doesn’t take effect until the first week of December, when the state certifies the final results.

Before Washington voters could mark their ballots for president or any state office, they first waded through a list of ballot measures with a mix of contentious issues and technical adjustments.

With about half of the expected ballots counted on Election Night, Referendum 74 on same-sex marriage and Initiative 1240 on charter schools were too close to call, but others piled up such large margins the results were clear. Here’s how they shape up:

Referendum 74

About 52 percent of voters were ratifying a law that would make Washington the seventh state in the nation to recognize marriages by same-sex couples. The law passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in March, but opponents quickly filed a referendum that placed it on hold. The law doesn’t require any religious organization opposed to same-sex marriage to perform those ceremonies or hold them in its facilities, but opponents argued it redefined marriage and infringed on the rights of those with religious objections.

About two-thirds of the ballots counted in King County Tuesday night had been marked yes. That was canceling out opposition in most of the state’s other counties, including Spokane, where about 57 percent of voters were rejecting the measure.

Supporters raised more than $12 million, with support from some of the state’s iconic companies like Microsoft and Starbucks; actor Brad Pitt gave money and Barack Obama recorded a robocall. Opponents raised more than $2.6 million, with about $1 million coming from the National Organization for Marriage, and have the backing of the state’s Catholic bishops.

Initiative 502

Washington will have the most liberal law on marijuana in the country, with recreational use by adults legal under state law – although not if they are under its influence while driving. The state now will have to set up a system to regulate and tax the plant’s sale and growth.

Unlike Referendum 74, the initiative had support throughout the state. Along with a big margin in King County, it also was collecting 52 percent of the vote in Spokane County and about 51 percent in Whitman County.

But Washington voters can’t change the fact that marijuana is a Schedule I drug, making it illegal for all uses under federal law.

Supporters say this will help push the federal government toward a more reasonable marijuana policy; opponents say it will escalate the fight between the state and federal government that began when voters legalized marijuana for medical use in 1998. Those differences will have to be worked out before Washington will be able to set up regulations for growing and selling marijuana, and collecting taxes on it.

Initiative 1240

Washington voters have rejected charter schools several times in the past, but on Tuesday night they were leaning slightly toward supporting them. Initiative 1240 would allow the state to set up a total of 40 charter schools within the public school system, eight per year over the next five years. Those schools would have to hire certified staff but would have more latitude on curriculum and be free from some of the other regulations that public schools have. Supporters say it’s a needed innovation to improve the state’s school system; opponents say the $5,800 in state funds for each pupil that will go to the charter schools will drain scarce resources from the other schools. It was close in many counties, including Spokane, where supporters outnumbered opponents by about 1,500 votes. The measure attracted large donations from some of the state’s leading high-tech executives, but opposition from teachers unions and some school boards.

Initiative 1185

Requiring the Legislature to pass tax increases with a two-thirds supermajority is popular with voters. They have approved similar restrictions four times before, and this year they might give I-1185 a two-thirds approval. The most recent version remains in effect, although its constitutionality is before the state Supreme Court.

If the court says no, the concept could resurface as a constitutional amendment in some future election.

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