Several states in recent months have advanced bills which would require a more thorough process to get an initiative onto the ballot. With many states continuing to face attempts to legislate on the ballot, this is a sensible move.
Just last fall, Michigan saw a slew of ballot measures supported by outside groups get approved, completely undermining the integrity of the state’s election processes as the loosest standards will reign for the foreseeable future.
That fate was owed to the ballot initiative process allowing for complicated, multifaceted questions to get on the ballot and earn approval with just 50% of the vote. Arizona also was stung by this, as an unconstitutional anti-free speech measure approved by hoodwinked voters.
This session, in many states controlled by Republicans, there are proposals to make it more difficult for this ballot initiative chaos to occur.
In Ohio, for the second session in a row, there is legislation that would raise the voting threshold to 60% for a measure to change the state Constitution.
North Dakota advanced a bill that would make it harder for voters to put measures on the ballot, raising certain thresholds and preliminary requirements. In North Dakota, Concurrent Resolution CR4013 would require that the submitter of the ballot initiative must have lived in North Dakota for 120 days, would prohibit petitioners from receiving compensation or gifts, and would raise the signature requirement from 4% of the census population to 5%. Ballot measures would also need to be approved in both the primary elections and the general elections and must be limited to one subject matter per initiative. North Dakota Senate Majority Leader David Hogue said: “This is supposed to be a grassroots process, and if somebody who is paying for signature gatherers is bringing in somebody from out of state, that’s not grassroots.” Similarly, Arkansas is considering a bill that would make it more difficult to pass a ballot measure. HB1419 would require signatures to be collected from 50 of the state’s 75 counties, up from the current 15. This is meant to give rural voters a greater say over ballot initiatives. Opponents argue this would make it too difficult for grassroots organizations given constrained resources. However, last year Arkansas voters rejected a proposal to require 60% of voters to approve a constitutional amendment as opposed to 50%. In Missouri, Republicans are fast tracking a bill that would raise the voter threshold requirement to amend the state constitution from 50% to 60%. House Speaker Pro Tem Mike Henderson said the proposal was in response to ballot initiatives doing more than their headline suggested, and that some voters felt deceived by those initiatives. Another argument he made was the growing length of the state constitution as a result of recent amendments.
“I believe it should be a living document but I do not believe it should be an ever-growing document,” Henderson said. In Ohio, GOP majority caucus leader Rep. Derek Merrin said: “House Republicans do not want abortion enshrined in the constitution. We do not want socialist measures dealing with the economy enshrined into the constitution.. .And that is why we have repeatedly asked and pressed to strengthen our constitution and not allow it to be hijacked by left wing socialists by requiring a 60% threshold, and we’ve been blocked for doing that.” Florida Republicans are also pursuing a bill that would raise the requirements to change the state constitution from 60% of voter’s approval to 66.67%. In recent years, measures to amend the constitution have been plentiful, and included some bad policy, like a $15 minimum wage – even though the Florida minimum wage was already indexed to inflation. Florida House Representative Chase Tramont said, “I agree with the concept of making it more difficult to change the Constitution, because as we all know how difficult it is to get things done, we know how much more difficult it is to get things undone.”
By making it harder to place ballot initiatives on the ballot, and to pass them into law, states like North Dakota, Ohio, Florida, and Missouri are making progress in protecting against legislating via the ballot, and ensuring the serious matter of changing the state constitution is reflected in the process to do so. Many states have stricter processes, require more votes and higher thresholds for approval, or do not allow public petitions at all.