By Alejandro Lazo

SAN FRANCISCO -- California voters enacted a series of big-ticket policies at the ballot box Tuesday, extending higher taxes on the state's top income earners and embracing legal marijuana while rejecting some signature liberal measures including a death penalty repeal.

November's election was one of direct democracy's busiest in the Golden State since 2000, with voters considering 17 statewide measures. Many involved complex policy matters that will be difficult or impossible to amend without returning to voters.

Voters slogged through a thick ballot guide, and wrote a song about the propositions. Katie Cushmore, 43, a marketing consultant from San Francisco called voting on the measures "overwhelmingand important."

While Californians voted Democrat in the presidential race, they appeared to be more discerning when choosing polices.

In a rebuke of former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Californians rejected a measure that would have limited what state agencies pay for prescription drugs.

Mr. Sanders had held rallies in Sacramento and Los Angeles supporting the measure while drug companies raised $109 million to fight it.

Voters also rejected a repeal of the state's death penalty. A competing measure to speed up the death penalty appeals process was still close Wednesday, and had not yet been called by the Associated Press or state officials.

But voters also legalized marijuana and approved early release for some prisoners serving time for nonviolent crime. They also voted against requiring condoms for porn actors.

Jim Mayer, chief executive of California Forward, a nonprofit that advocated for changes to the initiative system in 2014, said generally Californians affirmed trust in state government, approving a measure that extends California's high tax rates on high-income earners and a $9 billion bond measure for K-12 and community college facilities.

Voters also rejected a bitterly contested measure that would have required a public vote on the issuance of state revenue bonds of more than $2 billion. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown campaigned hard to defeat that measure.

"You could say they are moving left, but you could say they are also trying to get smarter about it," Mr. Mayer said of California voters. "It's not super-left."

Enthusiasts for bilingual education struck a victory, overturning a key piece of the state's 1998 ban. Smokers will see the price they pay for cigarettes increase after voters approved a measure that will raise the state excise tax on cigarettes by $2 to $2.87 a pack.

Experts say the "direct democracy" embodied in ballot questions remains popular in California as distrust of politicians runs high, despite the state's initiative system largely having been co-opted by special interests.

Proponents of statewide initiatives found it particularly easy to get them on the ballot this year, due to record-low turnout for the 2014 gubernatorial elections, a figure that sets the bar for the number of signatures needed to qualify initiatives.

--Chris Kirkham contributed to this article.

Write to Alejandro Lazo at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 09, 2016 18:35 ET (23:35 GMT)

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