Republicans try to limit voting measures following a series of progressive victories

The Republican push to regulate voting measures has increased in recent years as citizen-led initiatives have been used to legalize marijuana, expand Medicaid, create independent district reorganization commissions, and raise the minimum wage in purple and red states.

But the tactic is under new scrutiny after the Kansas anti-abortion referendum failed by a wide margin, which has given abortion rights advocates across the country hope that the voting measures could be a viable way to circumvent the GOP-controlled legislatures and restore access to the procedure.

Some progressives fear they may lose one of the last remaining tools to defend or promote the right to abortion at a later date.roe deer country.

“The red states know that this is the only leverage that reproductive rights defenders still have in many of these states – where we have lost both chambers of the legislature, we have lost governor seats and have little hope in the justice system.” said Kelly Hall, executive director of advocacy group The Fairness Project. “Electoral measures remain the only real muscle that people have yet to flex.”

Conservative groups in North Dakota are expected to try again next year to impose an absolute majority vote threshold for electoral initiatives after their signature-gathering attempts to include such a measure in the November runoff failed. early this summer. South Dakota Republican lawmakers are also expected to make another twist to make it more difficult to approve voting initiatives after voters turned down a 60% voting requirement during the June state primary.

In Florida, a state where proposed constitutional amendments already need 60% approval to pass, lawmakers recently imposed limits on fundraising for election campaigns, although that policy was blocked by a judge this summer. In Nebraska, lawmakers this year banned the collection of signatures near election mailboxes as part of an omnibus election bill.

Lawmakers in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah are also expected to renew their push for other restrictions soon, such as raising the threshold of votes or signatures, requiring signatures from a number of counties in the state, the limiting the topics that voting measures initiated by citizens can address, or dictating the font size that canvassers must use.

“The Constitution should be a framework and then there are laws that operate within that framework. But, increasingly, our Constitution is becoming a book of law in and of itself, ”said Missouri state representative Bishop Davidson, who argues for the limitations of the voting process.

Davidson added that the threat of an electoral measure in favor of abortion rights – something activists are discussing after their victory in neighboring Kansas – could persuade more of his fellow Republicans to support reforms of the initiative’s petition process. next session.

“I would be shocked if a petition was not circulated from the pro-choice side of this debate,” he said. “I think it’s coming. I’m worried.”

Proponents argue that these changes, which more states should discuss when legislatures meet again in January, are aimed at preventing out-of-state money spilling into their states and influencing voters to change laws or change their constitution. .

“I know there are a lot of paid signatories out there. Is it really the people who want these things, or is it just the groups that pay for these things? said Oklahoma state representative Carl Newton, a Republican.

The model extends beyond state legislatures to other parts of the government.

In Michigan, Republicans on the state’s Board of Canvassers voted to block certification of a large electoral initiative on abortion rights that obtained far more than the required number of valid signatures for claims that the text of the proposed constitutional amendment had spacing and formatting errors. The Supreme Court of the State ignore their decision Thursday, which means voters will have a chance in November to decide whether abortion remains legal.

And last year in Mississippi, a conservative court overturned the entire state election initiative process.

“This new tool in our box to protect reproductive rights and freedom will give our opposition even more incentive to take it away from us and make it more difficult for voting measures to pass,” said Corrine Rivera Fowler, director of policy and defense. attorney at the Strategy Center of the Progressive Ballot Initiative.

Of the two dozen states that allow citizen-initiated voting measures, 11 have laws that prohibit most abortions, although some are temporarily blocked in court.

Efforts to thwart electoral initiatives, however, have not been specifically targeted at abortion.

Arkansas lawmakers, for example, took action 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 if and when the procedure should be legal, but also what punishments to inflict on doctors and patients.

Arkansas Right to Life did not take a stand on the proposed requirement of an absolute majority vote. But the group’s executive director, Rose Mimms, told POLITICO that her move would help prevent efforts to change the state’s Constitution to codify the right to abortion.

Lawmakers pushing for the higher threshold, he said, are “very good people in favor of life, so I think not only [abortion] but other conservative issues in mind when they wanted to protect our Constitution from being changed so easily by making that supermajority a requirement.

“We saw it here in Arkansas with marijuana, that once you start amending the Constitution, it has no meaning,” he added.

Opponents of the 60 percent requirement argue that it would make it much more difficult to pass progressive policies, including abortion protections, in a state where Republicans in the legislature outnumbered 3 to 1 Democrats.

“This is the only tool we have in a state like Arkansas,” said Kymara Seals, political director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, one of the groups fighting against the amendment. “This is why we must fight to protect our access to the vote because we will not have it in the legislature”.

Groups opposing the restrictions also argue that the process already takes time and money. In Michigan, for example, tens of thousands of communicators – mostly volunteers with some paid staff – worked for months to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures to get the abortion right amendment on the November runoff, and planning the effort began years earlier.

Both SBA Pro-Life America and Students for Life, two national anti-abortion groups that have spent millions on election fights in Kansas and other states, told POLITICO they were not involved in the voting process debates.

“Too many state and national leaders are not responding to what voters really want, so the rise in electoral initiatives as a trend comes from people taking advantage of the course open to them,” said Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for Students for Life. “I hope it’s not about silencing the voters.”

The polls show this roe deerit is death it helped Democrats bridge the enthusiasm gap and Democratic candidates benefited from an increase in donations since the POLITICIAN published the Supreme Court’s draft opinion in May, but progressive groups fear that not enough attention is being paid to the electoral initiative process.

“We are really raising the alarm bells about what is happening this November,” Hall said. “Because if they succeed in any of these [states]it will be even more fuel to say that they should propose these restrictions everywhere. “

The Fairness project was behind a Medicaid expansion election measure in Oklahoma in 2020, after which lawmakers introduced several bills to make it more difficult to pass citizen-led voting initiatives, including a proposal to increase the threshold for the approval of constitutional amendments at 55%.

The legislation failed this year, but Newton said he plans to bring his bill back into the 2024 legislative session.

Newton added that while he is not specifically concerned about an out-of-state group introducing a voting measure for abortion rights in Oklahoma, “there is a possibility because there are some groups. [like] Planned Parenthood … who would like it to be a reality. So they could choose us as a target state. “

Abortion rights groups within Oklahoma, meanwhile, are considering lifting the state’s near-total ban by asking the question directly to voters. That’s why securing access to ballot papers is so crucial, said Laura Bellis, executive director of Take Control Oklahoma, which advocates access to reproductive health care.

“We need to protect electoral initiatives in general before we can even think of having one to protect abortion rights,” he said.