Tuesday's election was a watershed for a lot of people--Democrats, African Americans--but it was also an historic day for animals. Two major referenda passed, bringing unprecedented progress for animal welfare--and new influence for the animal welfare groups behind them.

In California, Proposition 2 mandates that confined animals must have enough space to "lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely." This effectively bans veal crates, chicken "battery cages," and pig "gestation crates," all common in livestock farms. The referendum, which passed with 63% of the vote, will affect an estimated twenty million farm animals, according to the Humane Society.

Massachusetts' Question 3, which passed by a slimmer 56%, will ban dog racing in the state. The state's two betting tracks, which race thousands of Greyhounds annually, must close by the end of 2009.

I spoke with Michael Markarian, Executive Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States, who said that such ballot measures, introduced in states where they are likely to pass, do much more than reform a single states' animal treatment laws. They are a message to American industry as a whole that considering animal welfare is increasingly within their economic self-interest. California agribusinesses, fearing a rise in operating costs, spent heavily to combat Proposition 2 and have nothing to show for it. Markarian is hoping that all animal-related businesses will draw the lesson that it is simply cheaper to improve animal treatment of their own accord, rather than risk a costly political fight they will probably lose.

It is a surprising strategy for groups like the Humane Society and People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals, which have traditionally made ethics, not economics, the centerpiece of their campaigns--but one that may yield substantial results for animals.

--Max Fisher