The Hot Sheet

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BALLOT MEASURE LANDSCAPE RIGHT NOW

INTRO 

As of today, BISC is monitoring 384 potential ballot measures for the 2022 election.

ATTACKS ON THE BALLOT MEASURE PROCESS:

What does an attack on direct democracy look like?

Attacks on the ballot measure process include: proposed legislation to make the ballot process harder to access, increased legal challenges, and direct efforts to repeal the will of the voters by legislators who are blocking the implementation of ballot measures after they have already passed.

Why are the attacks happening?

There is a clear connection to ballot process attacks in states with GOP majorities where progressive policy has recently passed at the ballot. 

Attacks on direct democracy have been increasing since the 2016 election, as state lawmakers in Republican-led states want to take the tool of direct democracy away from the People. The attacks against the ballot measure process are coordinated, and they are becoming more nuanced, more sophisticated, and would have deeper impacts on the initiative process.


Now, GOP legislators are enacting legislation to make the ballot process harder to access while also engaging in direct efforts to repeal the will of the voters after ballot measures have already been passed. The Republican State Leadership Committee has asserted its determination to make sure ballot measures are no longer a viable tool for progressives.

BALLOT MEASURE PROGRESS

Progressive policies are passing at the ballot in Red, Blue, and Purple states such as Florida, Arizona, Missouri, Idaho, Minnesota, and Montana. Through the power of direct democracy, the People are transforming power, advancing racial equity, and galvanizing a new progressive base. 

Through the ballot and the legislature, citizens have passed policies such as: 

  • Minimum wage increases
  • Decriminalization of marijuana
  • Paid Family Leave
  • Medicaid expansion
  • Taxing the wealthy
  • Restoration of voting rights
  • Reparations
  • Transforming public safety

BALLOT MEASURE THREATS ON OUR RADAR

Top States to Watch:

In 2021, there were a large number of direct democracy attacks in Arizona (11 threats), Florida (5 threats), Missouri (22 threats), Montana (7 threats), Oklahoma (20 threats), South Dakota (6 threats) and Utah (4 threats). 

Lawmakers in these states are also working to block the implementation of 2020 ballot measures that were approved. Three of the top threats BISC is currently tracking include:

Arizona: Last session, 11 bills to limit and create barriers to the ballot process were introduced in Arizona. Two attacks on the ballot measure process have already qualified for Arizona’s 2022 statewide ballot: SCR 1034 would permit the legislature to amend initiative laws if the Arizona Supreme Court or the US Supreme Court rules that the initiative law contains illegal or unconstitutional language. HCR 2001 would create a single-subject requirement for ballot measures.  

Florida: There were five bills threatening the ballot initiative process that were introduced during Florida’s 2021 legislative session. Legislators in Florida are also looking to block implementation of the state’s minimum wage increase initiative that was approved by voters in 2020. In 2021, the Florida legislature enacted SB 1890, a law that limits contributions to ballot measure campaigns to $3000 during the signature gathering phase. On July 1, Judge Winsor (US District Court, Northern District of Florida) ruled that the $3,000 contribution limit violates Floridians First Amendment right to political speech. Judge Winsor granted the plaintiffs motion to stop the law from going into effect. The Florida legislature has also already filed a bill to raise the ballot measure approval threshold to 66.7% for the 2022 session. 

Missouri: During the 2021 legislative session, 22 threats to direct democracy were introduced by state legislators in Missouri. In 2022, Republican lawmakers have already sponsored a measure to severely restrict direct democracy in the state. The new GOP-sponsored measure would ask voters to increase the number of signatures needed for initiative petitions to amend the constitution and it would raise the threshold for an initiative petition to be approved by voters — from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority — making it nearly impossible for grassroots groups to get an initiative on the ballot.

Mississippi: The Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the state’s constitutional ballot initiative process on a technicality in order to block the state’s recently passed medical marijuana initiative, Initiative 65, which was passed by 74% of Mississippians. The state Supreme Court’s decision is one of the greatest attacks on direct democracy in American history and a major blow for democracy. As the 2022 legislative session begins, it is still unclear if and how the legislature plans to restore the process.

Trends from the Bench:

Legal challenges are an unavoidable step in the initiative process. Opponents use them to disrupt, stall, or exhaust progressive campaigns. In recent years, Republican politicians have launched legal challenges against progressive initiatives to either block implementation or restrict the initiative process as a whole. 

BISC is currently monitoring 16 Legal Challenges across 13 states in various stages of litigation: implementation, campaign, and legislation.

Implementation: Legal challenge to halt or alter implementation of successful ballot measure. 

Campaign: Legal challenge to halt or delay progress of ballot measure campaign. For example, in Michigan there was a lawsuit seeking to disqualify the anti-emergency powers measure. 

Legislation: Legal challenge to repeal or delay legislation altering ballot measure process. For example, direct democracy advocates in states like Idaho, Florida, Ohio, and Missouri are suing to block laws that undermine the ballot initiative process such as a 60% voter approval threshold, onerous circulator requirements, and individual contribution limits. In a recent win for defending direct democracy, the Idaho Supreme Court upheld the People’s fundamental right to legislate by striking down the increased geographic distribution requirement that the Idaho legislature imposed in the 2021 legislative session.

Examples

Arizona: A tremendous blow to education funding came down when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the Prop 208 funds are “compulsory transfers of tax revenue” and not grants, directly contradicting the ballot language. Grants are not subject to the state’s education spending cap. The court went further and determined that if the Maricopa County Superior Court finds that Prop 208 will exceed the spending cap, then the entire law is unconstitutional. Prop 208 is projected to raise an estimated $827 million annually, $600 million above the spending cap.

Mississippi: The Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the entire initiative process, stating that it is impossible to follow as written and that the legislature will have to amend the constitution for it to be workable. The court invalidated the signatures gathered for a medical marijuana initiative and prevented the law, which passed with 74% voter approval, from going into effect. The initiative process is effectively repealed unless and until the legislature amends the state constitution.

Analysis: Ballot Measure Trends

Overview

In recent years, the ballot initiative process itself has been under attack by GOP lawmakers looking to restrict direct democracy by overturning ballot initiative decisions after they have already been voted on, and implementing a web of technicalities and hurdles that would make it impossible for grassroots communities to qualify ballot measures. 

The concerted conservative effort to limit the ballot initiative process is part of a larger movement by Republican legislators to undermine our democracy. We have seen similarly high levels of attacks in the form of voter suppression laws, attempts to remove Governors’ emergency powers, attacks on the freedom to protest, and more. 

Types of Legislation

In the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, we are seeing more sophistication in the policies being proposed.  Our opposition is more organized. They have more legislative sponsors and they are introducing parallel bills in both chambers. They are finding statutory paths to pass new policies rather than having to send these decisions to voters through constitutional amendments.


We are also seeing a trend in bills relating to government authority in the ballot measure process including language content/development and the ability of the legislature to alter ballot measures after they are approved by voters.

What’s Next? Strategic Considerations for the 2022 Landscape

Overview

As 2022 legislative sessions begin, the attacks on our democracy are escalating.

Many voting access, freedom to protest, and initiative process bills have already been introduced and will pass in the 2022 legislative session. We will also see these issues advance to the ballot this year as legislators refer democracy attack amendments to voters.

What to Expect This Year:

  • Voting access, freedom to protest, and initiative process attacks at state legislatures will continue to escalate
  • We will also see these issues advance to the ballot in many states as legislators refer democracy attack amendments to voters
  • Prepare for defense
  • Proactively move policies in this legislative sessions
  • Proactively run pro democracy ballot measures this year
  • BISC will continue our deep landscape analysis
  • Research voter support for direct democracy defense
  • Judicial strategies

Want to Dive Deeper Into the Ballot Measure Landscape?

Check Out BISC’s 2020 Landscape Analysis Executive Summary

BISC’s 2020 Landscape Analysis Executive Summary summarizes the findings from BISC’s full 2020 Landscape Analysis, an in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis of 36 ballot measure campaigns from the 2020 cycle.

The summary outlines BISC’s key takeaways from this extensive 2020 analysis, supporting evidence for our conclusions, and offers concrete recommendations for building durable, equitable wins.

This comprehensive analysis has enabled BISC and our partners to proactively plan for 2022 and beyond, utilizing key lessons and learnings.

To access the full analysis, which includes over 170 pages of data, please email [email protected].

For more information on our analysis or to schedule an interview with one of our policy experts, please contact our Strategic Communications Director, Caroline Sanchez Avakian at [email protected]