Missouri Proposed Ballot Initiatives Rejection Challenge
Cooper v. Ashcroft
Lawsuit filed on behalf of a Missouri citizen against Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft (R) challenging Ashcroft’s allegedly “unlawful” rejection of two proposed ballot initiative petitions. The proposed ballot initiative petitions would have asked voters in the 2024 election cycle to approve a measure to prevent state legislators from enacting laws that make it harder for citizens to amend the Missouri Constitution by raising the required threshold to pass ballot initiatives. Additionally, the measures would have extended the maximum amount of time that a lawmaker can serve in either state legislative chamber from 8 to 16 years and would have reduced the legislative term limit to 12 years if lawmakers pass any laws that inhibit the public’s ability to amend the state constitution. According to the plaintiff, under Missouri law, the first step of the ballot initiative process before an initiative can be disseminated for signatures entails submitting an “initiative petition sample sheet” to the secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor for preliminary approval “as to form” (meaning the sample sheets must comply with the required format). The plaintiff alleges that Ashcroft initially approved the petitions “as to form,” before subsequently rejecting them. The plaintiff argues that the “rejection letters did not explain what, if anything, about the forms of the sample sheets justified the Secretary of State’s reversal.” The plaintiff further argues that under Missouri law, a rejection of a proposed initiative petition “as to form” by the secretary of state must occur within 15 days of submission and must be accompanied by “the reasons for rejection.” The plaintiff contends that Ashcroft did not reject the petitions within 15 days of receipt, nor did he provide his reasons for rejection, meaning that the secretary violated multiple provisions of Missouri law. The plaintiff asks the court to order Ashcroft “to approve the initiative petition” and to prevent him from depriving Missouri citizens of their “constitutional rights anytime the Secretary of State dislikes the content of an initiative or referendum petition.” On April 10, 2023, the case was voluntarily dismissed.