The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Launches Multi-Year National Defend Direct Democracy Campaign to Protect Ballot Measures Across the Country

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30+ organizations and individuals join call to defend People-powered initiatives from legislative and legal attacks

Washington, DC, October 14, 2021 – Today, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) announced the #DefendDirectDemocracy campaign to protect ballot measures across the country from the alarming number of state legislators attacking the ballot measure process in an attempt to squelch the will of the people.

Ballot Measures — a form of direct democracy in the United States that allows citizens to place issues important to their communities on the ballot for a popular vote — have become one of the few tools in many states to make progressive change and address systemic inequities. Since 2014, BISC and our state and national partners and funders have led a multi-year, multi-state proactive strategy to bring bold, structural change to democracy, economic justice, and systemic racism in places where elected officials have failed to listen to the needs of the people. In 2016, that strategy started to pay off with victories on issues like raising the minimum wage, restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals, increasing funding for public education, and abolishing slavery as a form of punishment in state constitutions. 

Now, after passing progressive, People-powered ballot measures, state legislators with their own agendas are subverting the will of the people by refusing to implement these voter-approved initiatives and limiting the ability of citizens to use ballot measures to make change. In 2021, BISC tracked more than 146 bills to attack the ballot measure process across 33 states. 21 of 25 bills enacted or referred to voters this year were direct threats to the ballot initiative process this is an increase of 113 bills since 2017. These rampant attacks are a direct result of state-based coalitions passing bold, progressives policies at the ballot. Legislators in Republican-controlled states have worked to block the full implementation of voter-approved initiatives and they have introduced, enacted, and referred an unprecedented number of bills that would create barriers to our use of the People’s Tool. 

These attacks on ballot measures are part of a concerted effort to dismantle our democracy. It is no coincidence that we are seeing attacks on freedom to vote and right-to-protest in the same states in which ballot measures are being attacked. 

“As ballot measures are increasingly used by Black, Latinx, Native, Asian & Pacific Islander and young people to change the material conditions of our communities’ lives and shift power, we face these attacks. BISC’s #DefendDirectDemocracy campaign is a call to action to elevate the work we’ve been doing for years and meet these unprecedented attacks head-on during a critical time in our nation’s history,” said Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. “We must respond swiftly or risk losing a vital people-powered tool of our democracy. Together with our state partners, BISC is collaboratively developing proactive efforts to protect and strengthen the ballot measure process.”

In response to this unprecedented slew of attacks, and with the knowledge that initiative attacks will continue into 2022, BISC, in partnership with states impacted by these attacks, is building a multi-year, multi-pronged effort to defend voter-approved ballot measures and defend direct democracy. The 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. 

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 through BISC’s newly expanded Ballot Measure Hub, and read more about our campaign and sign up to receive updates here.