Washington, D.C. — This week, the Fairness Project convened experts from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the ACLU, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and Elias Law Group at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. The speakers called attention to major issues before voters in the midterm elections and discussed the enormous potential of ballot measures to create change, despite gridlock in Congress and state legislatures, on key policy issues.
Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, pointed out the necessity of utilizing ballot measures as an alternative to inaction in Congress and state legislatures, especially on issues that are widely popular like reproductive rights and health care access.
“Ballot measures are a powerful tool to break through that gridlock, to overcome that extremist polarization in some of our legislative spaces right now and allow voters to take matters into their own hands and pass common sense, popular policies directly at the ballot box,” Kelly Hall said. “It is particularly powerful in this moment where it feels like almost everything as a political controversy, where no matter how popular something is among the broader electorate, there are ideological or political excuses not to make change in the halls of power in many state legislatures.”
The Fairness Project has supported all six of the past efforts to expand Medicaid via ballot measure and is working to win its seventh campaign in South Dakota this year. David W. Benson, Senior State and Local Campaigns Manager at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, noted that the issue has repeatedly polled well in South Dakota despite stalling in the state legislature.
“The reality when you look at Medicaid expansion, for years, it’s been popular… Polling that ACS CAN has done shows over 60% of support for Medicaid expansion,” David W. Benson said. “Nonetheless, we continue to have struggles with our state legislature getting to a point that we’re expanding. When you have only 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid, South Dakota being one of them — we knew, looking at states like Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, that this can get done, and certainly with the support of organizations like the Fairness Project.”
This cycle, the Fairness Project is supporting the Michigan Reproductive Freedom for All campaign to enshrine the right to reproductive choice in the state constitution — a first-of-its-kind, citizen-initiated campaign that has broken records.
“In this post-Roe landscape, people are motivated around the critical need to enshrine our right to abortion access in the state constitution in a way that doesn’t vary with the whim of whatever the state legislature is,” said Kelley Robinson, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “We’ve seen such a powerful turnout just at the signature collection point — 425,000 signatures were required [in Michigan]. They got 750,000. Not only that, but it ignited volunteerism within the state… They ended the signature collection period with over 60,000 new volunteers in the fight. This is indicative of where people are. They are motivated to ensure that the right is protected, and this tool of ballot measures is really a transformative one.”
“This initiative, which is one of two in the country this cycle to aggressively, offensively protect women’s fundamental right to choose, garnered over 730,000 signatures,” said Kary L. Moss, acting national political director of the ACLU. “It’s just really important to establish the importance of valid initiatives getting around those kinds of legislative gridlock, and also really tapping into the will of the people. We know that this is what Michigan women want, that Michigan women know that they should be trusted to make these kinds of decisions for themselves. And we are extraordinarily optimistic that this is going to pass and will have a huge impact and resonate across the country.”
ATTACKS ON DIRECT DEMOCRACY
Last year the Fairness Project launched a $5 million campaign to counter attacks on the ballot measure process, including efforts to raise passage thresholds for ballot measures, make signature requirements more difficult, and do away with citizen-initiated ballot measures entirely.
“It’s very important to look at the attacks on democracy as fundamental to fighting for all of our rights. And so we must be thinking about how to protect the integrity of the electoral system, increased access to the ballot hand-in-hand with protecting the right to abortion, the right to marriage, all of our other fundamental rights,” said Kary L. Moss.
“Even though the people in [Michigan] garnered 750,000 signatures, the opposition tried to restrict our ability to take the issue to voters,” said Kelley Robinson. “This is a moment where we not only are focused on winning these initiatives because we know that it matters to people, but also protecting the right to direct democracy. That’s what’s at stake right now and that’s also what we’re fighting for.”
“This is part of a trend that Republicans are engaging in, they are taking counter-majoritarian actions to suppress the will of the people and make decisions by the few. That is in the U.S. Senate, that is in our court system, that is in the gerrymandered districts that are across the country… That is not something that we can let happen across the country,” said Emma Olson Sharkey, Associate at Elias Law Group LLP.
If you would like to interview Kelly Hall, Executive Director of the Fairness Project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.