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South Dakotans Reject Tough Abortion Ban

South Dakota- South Dakotans rejected a toughest-in-the-nation law that would have banned virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest – defeating one of the most high-profile state measures facing voters Tuesday.

The outcome was a blow to conservatives, although they prevailed in five other states where voters approved constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage. Among them was Wisconsin, where gay-rights activists had nursed hopes of engineering the first defeat of such a ban.

Five states approved increases in their minimum wage, while Arizona passed four measures targeting illegal immigrants, including one making English the state’s official language.

Nationwide, a total of 205 measures were on the ballots in 37 states, but none had riveted political activists across the country like the South Dakota abortion measure. Passed overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier this year, it would have allowed abortion only to save a pregnant woman’s life.

Lawmakers had hoped the ban would be challenged in court, provoking litigation that might eventually lead to a U.S. Supreme Court reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

“This is a wake-up call to lawmakers in other states that America’s pro-choice majority will not allow an assault on Roe v. Wade to go unanswered,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Eight states had ban-gay-marriage amendments on their ballots; Idaho, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia joined Wisconsin in approving them, while results were pending in Arizona, Colorado and South Dakota. Similar amendments have passed previously in all 20 states to consider them.

Colorado voters had an extra option – a measure that would grant domestic-partnership rights to same-sex couples.

Conservatives had hoped the same-sex marriage bans might increase turnout for Republicans. Democrats looked for a boost from low-income voters turning out on behalf of measures to raise the state minimum wage in six states. The wage hike passed in Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Nevada; results were pending in Colorado.

In Missouri, a proposed amendment allowing stem cell research was a factor in the crucial Senate race there; incumbent Republican Jim Talent opposed the measure, while Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill supported it.

Missouri – along with Arizona, South Dakota and California – had a sharp increase in tobacco taxes on its ballot. In California alone, big tobacco companies spent more than $56 million fighting a tax increase that would boost the average price of a pack of cigarettes to $6.55.

In Ohio, anti-smoking activists won a showdown with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Voters approved a tough ban on smoking in public places and rejected a rival, Reynolds-backed measure that would have exempted bars, bowling alleys and racetracks.

The costliest ballot campaign – a state record of $133 million – was raised in the fight over California’s Proposition 87, which would tax companies drilling for oil in the state. The proposal sought to raise $4 billion to promote alternative fuels and energy-efficient vehicles.

Nevada and Colorado both offered measures – trailing badly in pre-election polls – that would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by anyone 21 and older. A measure in Rhode Island would restore voting rights to felons on probation and parole.

Michigan voters decided whether to bar the state government from using race and gender to determine who gets into college, who gets hired and who receives contracts.

Elsewhere, land use was a hot issue, part of a backlash against a 2005 Supreme Court ruling allowing the city of New London, Conn., to buy up homes to make way for a private commercial development.

Eleven states considered eminent-domain measures barring the government from taking private property for a private use; Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Carolina approved them overwhelmingly. In four states – Arizona, California, Idaho and Washington – voters could require state and local authorities to compensate property owners if land-use regulations lowered the value of their property.

South Dakota voters defeated a measure that would have made their state the first to strip immunity from judges, exposing them to the possibility of lawsuits. In Maine, Nebraska and Oregon, voters defeated measures that would cap increases in state spending.

Arizona voters were deciding on the most ballot measures – 19 – including four that were approved that stemmed from frustration over the influx of illegal immigrants. One measure would make English the state’s official language; another expands the list of government benefits denied to illegal immigrants.

Voters weren’t keen about another, more quirky Arizona measure: They defeated a proposal that would have awarded $1 million to a randomly selected voter in each general election.

Pennsylvania voters gave the state the go-ahead to borrow $20 million so that nearly 33,000 veterans in the state who participated in the Persian Gulf War could collect one-time payments up to $525.

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