Ballot Measures are Under Attack and BISC is Leading a National, Multi-Year, Multi-Phase, Coordinated Strategy to Defend Direct Democracy

BISC has been leading a national, coordinated strategy with our state and national partners to pass progressive ballot measures for the last seven years. Since 2016, dozens of progressive measures have passed in states around the country. Transcending partisan lines, ballot measures give regular people access to lawmaking and have been the tool of necessity and choice to make changes and pass policies that will change the material conditions of people’s lives. It is unfortunate that our elected officials are failing to listen to the needs of their constituents and take up these issues. 

BISC’s work is deeply rooted in the states, and our foundation is built on long-term partnerships and plans at the state and national level that also include our strategic funding partners. Together with them, our growing victories at the ballot, and BISC’s leadership on minimum wage, earned paid sick time, increasing funding for public education, voting rights and access, redistricting, and voting rights restoration, have resulted in mounting attacks at state legislatures and on the ballot measure process itself. This year, our opposition also took action against freedom to vote and the right to protest. They are clearly working to dismantle every lever of our democracy.  

We believe ballot measures are a critical part of building an inclusive, participatory, and thriving democracy. We also believe we can work in partnership with state legislators to ensure we protect this vital tool of democracy and build the equitable and just world our people deserve.

Escalating Attacks Since 2017

In 2017, BISC monitored just 33 initiative process bills. During the 2021 legislative session, BISC has monitored 146 bills intended to change the ballot measure process. 21 of 25 bills enacted or referred to voters this year were direct threats to the ballot initiative process.

Make no mistake, these attacks are organized, well-funded, and intended to stop bold progressive policies from qualifying and passing at the ballot. There is a clear connection between the legislative and legal efforts to break down the People’s access to the ballot measure process in states with GOP majorities where voters have approved progressive ballot measures. This year, legislators also took bold action to block the implementation and positive impacts of progressive ballot measures, including refusing to fund Medicaid Expansion in Missouri and implementing a tax on individuals making more than $250,000 per year in order to fund K-12 education within Proposition 208 in Arizona.

Looking Ahead: The 2022 Ballot Measure Landscape

Since 2017, we have seen a five-fold increase in the number of ballot measure process attack bills introduced and enacted. We know this will continue to ramp up, and we will see more attacks in the 2022 legislative session. We can expect more legislatively referred amendments to be on the ballot next year with the intent of taking away the People’s Tool. 

The time to prepare to defend direct democracy is now. 

BISC is Positioned to Go Proactive to Defend Direct Democracy 

Our state partners worked tirelessly during the 2021 legislative session, but they often lacked the resources, capacity, and tools needed to run advocacy campaigns to the fullest extent. According to the capacity needs assessment that we have conducted to date, it is clear that our partners on the ground share common challenges when defending direct democracy against legislative attacks. 

As the only nationwide organization focused on using ballot measures to build and support multi-racial, multi-issue, people-powered movements, BISC is best positioned to work with our partners to lead a well-funded, coordinated, nationwide, strategic campaign to protect the People’s Tool as a critical part of the larger efforts to protect our democracy.  

BISC is fortunate to have these long-term partnerships at the state and national level as well as with strategic funding partners. We are already working with the active coalitions in Arizona, Florida, and Missouri that are working to defend against attacks on our democracy. 

Defending Direct Democracy Is Not Just About If We Win, It’s HOW We Win

BISC believes that it’s not just about if we win, it’s about HOW we win. BISC’s 360 Ballot Measure Lifecycle approach is about building long-term transformational power — together. This is foundational to all of our work at BISC. We know that we can’t achieve equity, inclusion, and justice without a process that reflects the outcomes we seek. By centering Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander and the intersections between, and using every phase and aspect of the ballot measure process to build long-term power, we can create a more just and equitable country where our communities will thrive.

Every aspect of the ballot measure process is an opportunity to build capacity, bring people in the state together around a common goal, center those most impacted, and shift the culture of how we do things. When we weave our values through every aspect of a ballot initiative campaign — like issue education and civic engagement, planning and policy development, how we build coalitions, gather signatures, run the campaign, ensure post-election campaign evaluations, and policy implementation — then we not only win at the ballot, but we have also built something that lasts over and above the policy win. That is true victory.

We Must Save the People’s Tool

With our values, theory of change, and strategic framework as our North Star, BISC is ready to lead this effort to #DefendDirectDemocracy in a collaborative, co-created way with our partners. Our campaign will include a legal and legislative strategy, state-specific research, narrative and messaging development to inform our defense, and we will work closely with our state and national partners to defend against attacks at the ballot in 2022 and beyond. 

What Our State Partners Have To Say: 

“We must develop a coordinated response to protect and expand our access to ballot measures if we are to continue to make progress on important issues like education funding and living wages and benefits for hardworking Arizonans. We are thrilled to be partnering with BISC who is leading the charge to defend direct democracy.” 

  • Emily Kirkland, Executive Director, Progress Arizona

“In the past two election cycles, voters have made progress for the people of Missouri by raising the minimum wage and expanding access to healthcare. The initiative process is a tool for Missourians to make real and immediate improvement in our lives, and we are proud to partner with BISC to protect our 100-year-old constitutional right to ballot measures.”

  • Richard Von Glahn, Organizing Director, Missouri Jobs with Justice

You can learn more about the attacks on direct democracy and sign up to receive campaign updates on BISC’s newly expanded ballot measure hub, where you’ll find our expert analysis of all the progressive ballot measures we’re tracking, legal challenges, trends, attacks, threats, BISC’s research on voters of color and young voters, features on trailblazing campaign leaders, and the exciting progress being made to advance democracy and liberation via ballot measures.

Help us spread the word and keep tabs on the campaign by using the hashtag #DefendDirectDemocracy and following @BallotStrategy on our socials: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

For press inquiries or to schedule an interview with a policy or legal advocacy expert, please contact [email protected]

Resources + Media:

In the News: BISC’s Ballot Measure Work