This morning, a trio of Politico writers, noted that “citizen-led initiatives have been used to legalize marijuana, expand Medicaid, create independent redistricting commissions and raise the minimum wage in purple and red states. This kind of activity is very worrying to conservatives and authoritarians. They have spent hundreds of years fighting against democracy and nothing could be more democratic than citizen-led initiatives. Last week Sarah Palin was all over the media whining about how ranked choice voting killed her chance to become a congresswoman. Actually, it was Alaska voters who killed her chance to become a congresswoman-- and not just by refusing, in great numbers, to vote for her.
In the first round of voting, she came in second with 30.9% compared to 39.7% for Mary Peltola and 27.8% for Nick Begich. In the second round, many Nick Begich supporters were disgusted enough with Palin to throw the election to Peltola and the final vote was:
Listening to Palin wailing, you would think that Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden saddled Alaska with ranked choice voting specifically to defeat her. That’s not how it happened, not even close. In 2020 Alaska voters passed a ballot initiative, Measure 2. It was close but 174,032 Alaskans voted for it (50.55%) and 170,251 voted against it (49.45%). Neither Biden nor Pelosi weighed in on it. In 2016 ranked choice voting was passed in a citizen referendum in Maine, 388,273 (52.12%) to 356,621 (47.88%). Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, lost and then challenged it in federal court, where he lost again.
So Republicans are trying to make citizen-initiated ballot measures that would bypass sell-out state legislatures and governors more difficult to get on the ballot. Politico pointed out that “The next major test for the strategy comes in November: Arizona and Arkansas’ GOP-controlled legislatures are asking voters to approve constitutional amendments that would raise the threshold for ballot initiatives from 50 percent to 60 percent. Arkansas’ proposal would apply to constitutional amendments and citizen-initiated state statutes on any subject matter, including abortion. Arizona’s applies only to taxation-related measures, though some see it as a prelude to a broader version.”
[T]he tactic is under new scrutiny after deep-red Kansas’ anti-abortion referendum failed by a wide margin, which gave abortion-rights supporters around the country hope that ballot measures can be a viable way to circumvent GOP-controlled legislatures and restore access to the procedure.
Some progressives worry they could lose one of their last remaining tools to defend or advance abortion rights in a post-Roe country.
“Red states know that this is the one lever that reproductive rights advocates still have in many of these states — where we’ve lost both chambers of the legislature, we’ve lost the gubernatorial seats, and we don’t have very much hope in the court system,” said Kelly Hall, executive director of the advocacy group The Fairness Project. “Ballot measures remain the one true muscle that the people still have to flex.”
Conservative groups in North Dakota are expected to try again next year to impose a supermajority vote threshold for ballot initiatives after their signature-gathering attempts to put such a measure on the November ballot fell short earlier this summer. Republican lawmakers in South Dakota are also expected to take another swing at making it harder to approve ballot initiatives after voters rejected one 60 percent vote requirement during the state’s June primary.
In Florida, a state where proposed constitutional amendments already need 60 percent approval to pass, lawmakers recently imposed limits on fundraising for ballot campaigns, though that policy was blocked by a judge this summer. In Nebraska, legislators this year banned signature-gathering near voting drop boxes as part of an omnibus election bill.
Lawmakers in Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah are also expected to soon renew their push for other restrictions, such as raising the vote or signature threshold, requiring signatures from a certain number of counties in the state, limiting what topics citizen-initiated ballot measures can address, or dictating what font size canvassers need to use.
… The pattern extends beyond state legislatures into other parts of government.
In Michigan, Republicans on the state’s Board of Canvassers voted to block the certification of a sweeping abortion-rights ballot initiative that got far more than the required number of valid signatures over claims the text of the proposed constitutional amendment had spacing and formatting errors. The state’s Supreme Court overrode their decision on Thursday, meaning voters will have a chance in November to decide whether abortion remains legal.
And last year in Mississippi, a conservative-leaning court struck down the state’s entire ballot initiative process.
“This new tool in our box to protect reproductive rights and liberty is going to give our opposition even more incentive to take that away from us and to make it harder to pass ballot measures,” said Corrine Rivera Fowler, director of policy and legal advocacy at the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.
Of the two dozen states that allow citizen-initiated ballot measures, 11 have laws prohibiting most abortions, though some are temporarily blocked in court.
The efforts to stymie ballot initiatives, however, haven’t been targeted specifically at abortion.
Arkansas legislators, for example, acted after liberal groups turned to voters to raise the minimum wage and legalize medical marijuana. But these policies may have their greatest impact on abortion rights as lawmakers across the country consider not only whether and when the procedure should be legal but also what punishments to mete out to physicians and patients.
In Florida, after the Republicans raised the bar to pass these things from 50 to 60%, the state’s citizens still managed to pass a fair districts amendment to put a serious check on egregious gerrymandering and, more recently, a bill to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time. So the Republicans in power in Tallahassee just ignore both-- which is something you can do under a fascist system-- are dare the courts to overrule them, which they did in the gerrymandering case (although this year DeSantis went for it again, in the hope that a more conservative state Supreme Court will ignore the constitution).