Red State Legislators Advance Attacks on the Initiative Process in Retaliation to Voter-Led Progress at the Ballot
Washington, DC — Republican legislators in several states could pass new attacks on the ballot initiative process as soon as next week, including Ohio and Missouri. Last month, North Dakota legislators also passed a bill to create additional barriers for citizens trying to pass ballot measures in their state, and Mississippi legislators have refused to restore their state’s ballot measure process since it was invalidated in court.
See below for a summary of some of the ongoing attacks on the ballot measure process this year in response to progressive wins on issues such as Medicaid expansion, minimum wage, and reproductive freedom:
In April, the state Senate voted to pass Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would end majority rule by requiring 60% of voters to approve future ballot measures instead of a simple majority. If the bill passes the full state House — which could happen as soon as next week — the question will be referred to voters in an August special election. Anti-abortion groups have been open about the fact that efforts to advance the supermajority threshold are intended to block a potential measure this November that would enshrine reproductive freedom in the state constitution. However, if the threshold were to be raised to 60%, it would impact all future ballot measures, not just those related to abortion.
Missouri state legislators have also proposed a bill to further restrict the ballot measure process. In its current version, the bill would require future ballot measures in the state to pass by 57% or by a majority of voters in a majority of the state’s eight congressional districts. Currently, a simple statewide majority of voters is required to pass ballot measures — a system that has allowed voters to expand Medicaid, raise the minimum wage, and decriminalize cannabis in recent statewide elections.
Earlier this month, state legislators passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 4013, which proposes a constitutional amendment to create additional barriers for citizens trying to pass ballot measures in their state. The amendment would limit initiatives to a single subject; increase the number of signatures required to qualify a measure for the ballot; and require that citizen-initiated measures be approved by voters twice, both on a primary and a general election ballot. The amendment will go before voters for approval in November 2024 and will be implemented in subsequent elections if passed.
A 2021 Mississippi Supreme Court decision overturned the state’s ballot measure process in response to a voter-passed measure to legalize medical marijuana, ruling that a new process must be passed by the legislature to account for a decrease in the number of congressional districts in the state. The Mississippi state legislature must pass a bill in order for the process to be restored — but for two years in a row, legislators have refused to restore the state’s ballot measure process, leaving voters without the right to put issues on the statewide ballot themselves.
Attacks in 2022
Several states advanced a 60% threshold in 2022, and Arizona legislators succeeded in implementing one for ballot measures on certain topics. And while legislators in Arkansas and South Dakota passed 60% threshold proposals, they were rejected at the ballot box by voters.