Attacks + Threats

Current State of Attacks on the Ballot Measure Process:

The Republican resistance to ballot measures is new and escalating. Back when Democrats controlled a majority of state houses around the country, the GOP loved direct democracy and spearheaded initiatives to restrict collective bargaining, enact voter ID laws, restrict the freedom to marry, and reject health insurance mandates. That changed after the seismic 2010 midterm elections that helped install GOP majorities in legislatures and governor’s mansions ahead of a once-a-decade redistricting process. Ever since, data shows that Republicans have aggressively attacked the citizen-led initiative process — particularly in states where the party holds a trifecta.

As of May 15, 2024, BISC is tracking 103 bills in 22 states that would impact the citizen initiative process. The color of the state in the map below coordinates with the number of bills introduced in that state, with darker colors indicating more bills.

2024 Attacks on Direct Democracy:

Arizona stands out as a focal point for threats to democratic processes, with increasing election denialism and targeted attacks on the ballot initiative process. Currently, five of six members of the Republican congressional delegation and 21 current state legislators are election deniers or skeptics.

In 2023, the Arizona legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the ballot, which would establish a geographic signature distribution requirement. This measure will be on the ballot on November 5, 2024, amongst three others. The list of qualified ballot measures is likely to expand as citizen-initiated ballot campaigns qualify measures in the first half of 2024 and as Republicans in the state legislature continue to use constitutional amendments to circumvent the state’s Democratic governor.

We are monitoring potential threats that may arise during the 2024 legislative session, including the expansion of geographic signature-gathering requirements and a potential 60% threshold LRCA. The state legislature approved a constitutional amendment requiring signatures from each legislative district to qualify a citizen initiative for the ballot. Currently, signatures from 10% of qualified voters are required for initiated statutes, and 15% of qualified voters are required for initiated constitutional amendments. The amendment will be on the ballot for the Nov. 5, 2024 election.

Florida:

Florida is the only state requiring citizen-initiated measures to pass with a 60% supermajority. Despite this, Florida House lawmakers advanced a resolution Jan. 29 that intends to make it even more difficult for voters to pass citizen-initiated constitutional amendments on the ballot by requiring a 66.67% supermajority. Florida’s current supermajority threshold doomed voters’ first attempt at legalizing medical cannabis in the 2014 election, despite 57.6% of voters supporting Amendment 2.

Mississippi:

After the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down Mississippi’s entire ballot initiative process on a technicality in 2021, Republican lawmakers have failed to restore the ballot initiative process three years in a row. Currently, it is impossible for Mississippians to exercise their right to petition their government despite such a right existing in the state constitution.

Republican legislators in Mississippi have spent recent years introducing legislation that would significantly restrict the use of citizen initiatives. These carve-outs included prohibiting citizens from amending the state constitution, increasing the signatures needed to qualify a measure, and allowing for substantial legislative overreach in implementing new standards – all of which would have been detrimental to the process. Notably, advocates would have had no avenue for amending the state constitution independent of the state legislature – leaving them with few options to counter existing and future restrictions on the citizen initiative process. 

In the 2024 legislative session, lawmakers introduced a bill to “restore the ballot initiative process” known as HC 11. However, HC 11 would have reinstated the citizen initiative process with significant limitations from the previously applicable initiative process. If passed, it would have significantly limited the ballot initiative process that the state once had, and its signature requirements would be among the highest in the country. Mississippi is among seven states that also have subject limitations for ballot initiatives. It would also have allowed the state legislature significant power to repeal and amend measures that voters have already approved, which would likely be subject to partisan control due to the state’s deep conservative majorities in the state legislature and courts, and Governor’s office. 

Missouri:

This year, Missouri legislators introduced more attacks on the citizen initiative process than any other state in the country. Republican leaders in the Missouri House and Senate zeroed in on the initiative petition process — just as abortion rights supporters search for paths to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to an abortion. At least 20 bills were filed in the House and the Senate aimed at altering the initiative petition process in 2024.

One proposed resolution in the legislature sought to outright ban any change in the constitution protecting abortion rights. Many bills had identical wording or were similar to others. In past years, lawmakers debated raising the statewide threshold above a simple majority by using a percentage of voter support. This year, they took a different approach. Instead of just a simple majority, some lawmakers proposed using a concurrent majority system, which would require a majority of the statewide vote and a majority of either congressional districts, state Senate districts or state House districts. The Missouri Independent had calculated that under such a concurrent majority rule, a ballot measure could be defeated by as few as 23% of Missouri voters. Fortunately the proposed resolution failed in the final week of the legislative session amid GOP in-fighting.

Current State of Attacks on Voter-Approved Ballot Measures:

  1. Michigan: Republican legislators in Michigan are challenging voter-approved amendments from 2018 and 2022 that enshrined a variety of pro-voting reforms including expanding the early voting period, allowing voters to request an absentee ballot, and requiring the state to provide prepaid stamps for absentee ballots. The GOP plaintiffs trying to nullify these measures are using an unfounded right-wing constitutional theory known as the  independent state legislature (ISL) theory as the basis for their legal challenge, even though the Supreme Court rejected ISL theory in the Moore v. Harper case in the summer of 2023.
     
  2. Ohio: After Ohio voters used the power of direct democracy to pass ballot measures legalizing recreational marijuana and enshrining abortion rights in their state constitution, Republican state lawmakers immediately tried to strip judges of their power to interpret and enforce the reproductive freedom measure. Additionally, GOP lawmakers in the Ohio Senate are attempting to stop the measures from being implemented by changing and repealing key parts of the measures. These lawmakers are trying to undermine the voter-approved marijuana measure by increasing taxes on marijuana sales, reducing Ohioans’ ability to grow plants at home, and chipping away at the social equity component of the measure.

Anti-Direct Democracy Measures On Ballot 2024:

  • Arizona [OPPOSE]: Require signatures from 10% of qualified voters in each legislative district to qualify initiated state statutes for the ballot and would require signatures from 15% of qualified voters in each legislative district to qualify initiated constitutional amendments for the ballot.
  • Colorado [OPPOSE]: This initiative would require an economic impact summary to appear on the ballot with each ballot measure preceding the ballot title. The summary would need to include information on the effect the measure would have on state employment, the state’s gross domestic product (GDP), and the effect on state and local government revenue, expenditures, taxes, and fiscal liabilities.
  • North Dakota [OPPOSE]: Requires a single-subject for initiatives and requires proposed constitutional initiatives to appear on the ballot and be approved at the primary and general election to become effective.

What Happened in 2023:

  • Ohio’s Issue 1 [DEFEATED]: In Ohio, self interested lawmakers and special interests lobbied to create an August 8th special election in an attempt to permanently rig Ohio’s constitution in their favor and prevent Ohioans from voting on a reproductive freedom amendment. Luckily, Ohio voters saw past this anti-democratic power grab and soundly defeated Issue 1 in August of 2023.

Why are these attacks happening?

The national fight over ballot measures began to pick up around a decade ago when a coordinated push happened across the country to use the ballot initiative process to expand Medicaid and enact other popular, progressive policies that fare well with voters across the political spectrum. We have seen another steep escalation in legislatively-referred attacks since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and voters in Red, Blue, and Purple states have been using the power of direct democracy to enshrine reproductive freedom into their state constitutions.

In 2015, BISC began implementing a proactive, long-term strategy co-created with state leaders and grassroots organizers to achieve progressive policy wins and build lasting, equitable power on the ground through ballot initiatives. We’ve been successful, so it’s no surprise that we’ve been seeing a steep rise in ballot measure process bills in state legislatures.

In many states, politicians and wealthy special interests are trying to make it harder for voters to propose and pass ballot initiatives under the cover of so-called “reforms.” These attacks are coordinated and they have become more nuanced, sophisticated, and would have deeper impacts on the initiative process. These restrictive measures take a variety of forms, but they all serve the same function: to undermine the will of the people and diminish their decision-making power.