While most Americans may have been focused on the 2016 presidential election – still more than a year away -- many of the races and ballot issues voted on across the country on Tuesday could very well have wide-ranging policy implications in 2016.
Here’s a look at what went down and what it means for next year.
1. A Medicaid expansion litmus test. Republican tea party favorite Matt Bevin beat Democrat Jack Conway to win the governor’s race in Kentucky.
A big part of Bevin’s outsider campaign was his promise to undo the Medicaid expansion of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act – affecting 400,000 Kentucky residents already on the program. Conway, meanwhile, promised to continue expanding the state’s program.
This could be a litmus test for national Republicans, especially some presidential candidates, who have long clamored to "repeal or replace" Obamacare. Will Bevin’s vow to replace the expansion with another program using a federal waiver be a success? And will there be political blowback? Time will tell.
2. Bad news for LGBT rights. Houston, Texas, voters rejected a measure that would have protected gay and transgender people from discrimination. Proposition 1, known as Houston’s equal rights ordinance, promised to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Opponents successfully used scare tactics to argue that the measure would allow male sex predators to use women’s restrooms, even as proponents pointed out the measure doesn’t change existing laws banning indecent exposure and assaults.
The biggest takeaway is that trans equality has a long way to go to catch up to marriage equality, even in a city as diverse as Houston, America’s fourth largest metropolis.
And the issue isn’t going away. Congress is considering the Equality Act, which would expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in workplace, housing and in public accommodation.
3. Marijuana advocates get their buzz killed. Voters in Ohio rejected a ballot initiative that would have legalized recreational and medical use of marijuana. Opponents successfully railed against a controversial provision that would have allowed commercial cultivation on only 10 farms – and benefit just a small number of investors.
Ohio is a major presidential swing state, and Tuesday’s vote was considered a bellwether for the marijuana legalization movement. However, polls show the majority of Americans back legal marijuana use.
4. Bad news for Hillary? In Virginia, Democrats tried—and failed—to capture control of the state Senate. The Dems only needed one seat to flip the state Senate from red to blue, giving Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe the strength he needs (even with a GOP majority in the House of Delegates) to help advance his agenda on a number of issues, including Medicaid expansion and gun control.
The 2016 implication? McAuliffe is a close ally of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, and many politicos argued that flipping the Senate and McAuliffe being able to push his legislative agenda would have helped him deliver the purple state of Virginia to Clinton in 2016.
5. A (small) win for raising the minimum wage. Voters in Tacoma, Washington, voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $12 (phased in over two years) instead of another measure to immediately increase pay to $15, which would have been one of the highest minimum wages in the country.
The federal minimum wage has already been a big issue on the 2016 campaign trail, especially because cities have higher minimum wages than the existing $7.25 federal rate, and because there have been labor-fueled, progressive rallies nationwide for higher wages.
Clinton has said she wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $12, while her Democratic challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, has called for $15 an hour. Most Republican candidates, meanwhile, have said they don’t think now is the time for a federal wage hike.
6. Campaign finance reform gains ground. Voters in Maine approved a measure to limit the influence of special interest money in state elections.
The measure increases public funding for candidates to as much as $3 million (as opposed to the existing $2 million), giving those running for office an incentive to use that money instead of money from special interest groups. The law also strengthens disclosure rules and penalties for those who violate campaign finance laws.
The move could boost efforts around the country to reduce the influence of money in politics, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows super PACs to accept unlimited donations from wealthy individuals and corporations.
7. A sharing economy victory. Voters in San Francisco, California, shot down a measure that would have imposed regulations on short-term rentals, affecting companies like Airbnb.
Proposition F would have limited the number of nights a unit can be rented annually to 75. Proponents argued companies like Airbnb (which spent millions in hopes of defeating the measure) made the lack of affordable housing worse as units were being treated like hotel rooms.
The whole issue of the so-called “sharing economy” has become a major talking point in the 2016 presidential campaign, with candidates trying to strike a balance between embracing new technology while also protecting American workers. Republicans, in particular, have been quick to embrace sharing-economy companies like Uber, which they see as vastly preferable, market-based solutions to union-run taxi cartels. Democrats tend to argue that the "gig economy" hurts workers.