Already in 2023, Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have re-doubled their efforts to restrict the democratic process.
In Missouri, House Republicans passed a bill that would require 60% support to approve voter-initiated constitutional amendments, rather than a simple majority. Florida Republicans have introduced a bill to further raise the threshold to pass constitutional amendments from 60% to nearly 67%. And Ohio Republicans seek to not only require a 60% threshold to pass constitutional amendments, up from 50% — but also require petition signatures from all 88 Ohio counties instead of the current requirement of 44 counties.
The Republican assault on direct democracy is a predictable reaction to major progressive ballot measure victories across the country last year. Although activists have used the ballot measure process for decades, the 2022 elections showed that people across the country are beginning to realize its power. This was especially true for the reproductive rights movement.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year, six states considered measures related to abortion rights. And, in all six — Kansas, California, Kentucky, Montana, Michigan, and Vermont — voters sided with the right to choose. Perhaps no state did so more defiantly than Kansas, where voters, by an 18-point margin, rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have eliminated the right to an abortion.
The Republican assault on direct democracy is a predictable reaction to major progressive ballot measure victories.
The progressive victories didn't end there.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in Massachusetts that taxes millionaires to fund public education and infrastructure. Nebraska voters adopted an initiative with nearly 60% support that raises the minimum wage (critically, the law includes a cost-of-living adjustment). And, in Colorado, voters approved a proposition that reduces income tax deductions for the wealthy to fund a school meals program. Moreover, voters in Connecticut and Michigan bolstered voting rights using the ballot measure process.
Despite these successes, there is still so much opportunity for progressive change through the ballot measure process. Take Ohio — a state that shifted rightward in the last decade. In January, Republican legislators quietly passed a voter suppression bill that makes mail-in voting harder and imposes stringent new voter ID requirements. Yet, Ohio voters have the right to approve or reject recently passed laws through a citizen-led ballot referendum. Democrats, boxed out of legislative and executive power in the state, should refer this restrictive law to the voters of Ohio. Moreover, Democrats in Ohio and across the country should follow Michigan's lead and put their energy behind passing popular pro-voting rights constitutional amendments that would supersede statutory voter suppression laws.
So, what is next?
Progressive measures are already planned for 2023 and 2024. From a pro-choice ballot initiative in Ohio to an $18 minimum wage initiative in California, voters across the country will have the opportunity to adopt progressive policies that will directly improve their lives. These progressive measures will be critical, if enacted, but they are not enough on their own. While there were huge progressive victories in 2022, conservatives won an anti-union measure in Tennessee and a tax measure in Arizona that will hamper the state's ability to raise revenues for vital services.
To preserve ballot measures for future generations, we must protect the ballot measure process itself — fighting for a more accessible process and lobbying against the restrictive legislation Republican politicians are eager to enact.
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