WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just one week into 2023 legislative sessions, Republican lawmakers across the country are looking to curtail the ballot initiative process, which allows citizens to directly affect policy change by voting on proposals to change state laws and state constitutions. In recent years, progressive policies — including Medicaid expansion, minimum-wage increases, marijuana legalization and establishment of independent redistricting commissions — have proved overwhelmingly popular with voters. In 2022, when the question of abortion access was placed on the ballot in states that range from California and Vermont to Kansas and Kentucky, voters routinely chose to reject the Republican Party’s draconian policies.
As of Jan. 12, GOP lawmakers in at least three states are already looking to make the ballot initiative process more difficult. These proposals build on recent momentum to curtail voters’ power at the ballot box. In 2021, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center monitored 146 bills aimed at restricting or abolishing the ballot measure process, a 500% increase from 2017.
As of Jan. 10, Missouri Republicans have introduced a dozen bills to make it harder for voters to approve constitutional amendments. Currently, Missourians can initiate statutory or constitutional changes via a petition process; approved petitions will be placed on the ballot before voters. The new proposals would raise the threshold to approve amendments, increase the number of voter signatures required to get on the ballot and more. Three proposals want to raise the threshold to an unprecedented 2/3 or nearly 67% of the votes cast (as opposed to a simple majority over 50%). In contrast, a Democratic lawmaker has introduced a resolution that would prohibit the Legislature from amending or repealing any initiative passed by voters.
This week, Ohio state Rep. Brian Stewart (R) introduced a house resolution which would raise the threshold for voters to approve constitutional amendments from 50% to 60%. A similar proposal was introduced in December 2022; the resolution was approved by the House Government Oversight Committee along party lines, but failed to move forward before the session ended as lawmakers prioritized another package of anti-voter policies. In addition to changing the threshold for enactment, the 2023 version of the resolution would eliminate a “cure period” after gathering signatures and would require signatures from all 88 Ohio counties instead of only 44 counties. When urging his colleagues to support the measure in December, Stewart explicitly said that the resolution was an effort to counter future attempts to codify abortion rights and end partisan gerrymandering. In a letter obtained by a cleveland.com reporter, Stewart further boasted that “Republicans won a 67 seat majority in the House,” implying that citizen-led constitutional amendments would threaten that control. Stewart has indicated his interest in moving the resolution quickly so it can be on the May 2023 ballot, a low-turnout election which he has called a “sleepy May primary.”
Florida already has pre-existing supermajority requirements for constitutional amendments. Yet, House Joint Resolution 129, introduced this session, would further raise the threshold to pass constitutional amendments from 60% to nearly 67%.