Washington, DC — Today, the Fairness Project released its report, The Direct Democracy and Voting Rights Crisis, providing an overview of a decade-long effort to attack state-level ballot measures and citizen-led initiatives with the goal of consolidating power in the hands of extreme state legislators. The report includes an analysis of various methods used to limit citizens’ ability to create, collect signatures for, and pass such measures, as well as a glossary of recent state-by-state attacks.

READ THE REPORT: The Direct Democracy and Voting Rights Crisis

“Direct democracy is facing a coordinated attack from extremist politicians who are either unresponsive to or intent on silencing the voices of their constituents,” the report reads. “These attacks have multiplied and become more nuanced and sophisticated over time, with reactionary lawmakers favoring a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach to undermining the initiative process.”

Ohio has taken center stage in the ballot measure process debate this year; conservative politicians have rushed to schedule a special election on August 8th with the aim of raising the threshold for passing ballot measures ahead of an expected vote on reproductive rights this November. However, Ohio is only the latest target in an extended campaign to short-circuit ballot measures and consolidate policymaking power in the hands of lawmakers who frequently ignore the will of the people.

“Ohio voters will be asked if they want to raise the bar from a simple majority to a 60% supermajority to successfully pass initiatives — a change that would allow a minority of 41% of voters to dictate policy choices,” the report continues. “Special interests and politicians, including Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, are so committed to denying voters their say on issues like abortion rights that they have reinstated the use of special elections, after having previously abolished them due to high costs to taxpayers and low voter turnout.Their admitted immediate aim is to thwart a reproductive rights amendment which is expected to appear on the November ballot.”

In 2021, the Fairness Project launched the Ballot Measure Rescue Campaign, an effort to fight restrictions to state-level ballot measures and citizen-led initiatives. Last cycle, the Fairness Project succeeded in stopping an effort in South Dakota to raise the ballot measure threshold to 60%, ultimately a campaign to decrease the chance of expanding Medicaid in the state on a future ballot. It also helped to defeat a similar supermajority threshold in Arkansas last November.

The report catalogs efforts like expanding supermajority requirements, expanding geographic requirements for signature collection, raising registration hurdles for circulators, and shrinking timelines for signature collection.

“Taken separately, these attacks on direct democracy may not seem fatal to the ballot initiative process,” the report reads. “Taken collectively, over years of bad faith legislation, these hurdles create serious blockades to the citizen-led ballot measure process, creating insurmountable hurdles for organizers and allowing reactionary lawmakers multiple avenues to hamper progress despite the clear will of the majority in individual states. This ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach snowballs into a concerted campaign to disempower voters and take decision making out of their hands.”

“Ballot measures are the backstop to dysfunction in our political system. They enable voters to get things done when their lawmakers refuse to listen,” said Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project. “Recent successful ballot measures have expanded Medicaid, raised the minimum wage, and protected reproductive rights. Now, Republican lawmakers in states across the country are doubling down on restrictions to the ballot measure process altogether. They see a tool for change they do not like, and they are trying to shut it down.”


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