Missouri Republicans Aim To Curtail Voters’ Ability To Amend the State Constitution
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As of Tuesday, Jan. 10, Missouri Republicans have introduced a dozen bills to make it harder for Missouri voters to approve constitutional amendments. In Missouri, citizens can initiate statutory or constitutional changes via a petition process; approved petitions will be placed on the ballot before Missouri voters. Less than a week into the 2023 legislative session, Republican lawmakers are trying to undermine that form of direct democracy.
Two resolutions — House Joint Resolution 2 and House Joint Resolution 28 — both would make it harder to get a citizen-led petition onto the ballot by raising the percentage of voter signatures required. They also require that the expected percentage of signatures comes from “each” congressional district in the state.
Senate Joint Resolution 5 and House Joint Resolution 40 would raise the threshold to approve constitutional amendments to 60%. Currently, only a simple majority (over 50%) of voters must approve a measure for it to pass. In an even more extreme — and unprecedented — requirement, House Joint Resolution 6, House Joint Resolution 18 and House Joint Resolution 29 would raise the threshold to approve constitutional amendments to 2/3 or nearly 67% of the votes cast.
Several other House resolutions propose changes that would have a similar effect of greatly raising the threshold for approving constitutional amendments on the ballot. However, the language is less straightforward. Three House joint resolutions would require an amendment to be approved by a majority of registered voters, not just a majority of the voters who turn out for a given election. Two other separate resolutions would require constitutional amendments to pass with a majority of votes cast statewide and in a majority of state House of Representatives districts and statewide and in a majority of state Senate districts, respectively.
All of these pieces of legislation are “joint resolutions” because if passed by the Missouri Legislature, voters will have to approve them first before they alter future ballot measure rules; this is known as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment. Notably, a few of these resolutions also include language that emphasizes that “only citizens of the United States of America” can vote, a GOP messaging priority fueled by anti-immigrant sentiment and the false belief that noncitizens are illegally voting in elections.
In recent years, progressive policies — such as Idaho’s 2018 Medicaid expansion, Florida’s minimum-wage increase and marijuana legalization in numerous states — have excelled on the ballot. The establishment of independent redistricting commissions is often accomplished through ballot initiatives, likely constitutional amendments. In response, a Republican Party increasingly out of step with the majority of Americans is looking to restrict this process. In Missouri, voters legalized marijuana during the 2022 midterms via constitutional amendment. There has also been talk about the state being a prime target for a ballot measure to protect abortion access after efforts in Kansas and elsewhere succeeded resoundingly when placed before voters.
During the 2022 midterms, Arizona voters rejected one proposal and approved two others that will make passing future ballot measures more difficult: Arizona measures must have a single subject (already a requirement in Missouri) and pass with 60% of the vote if the measure levies a tax. The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center monitored 146 bills aimed at restricting or abolishing the ballot measure process in 2021, a 500% increase from just a few years prior in 2017. In Missouri, this trend of curtailing citizens’ political power is starting strong in 2023.