GOP escalates fight against citizen-led ballot initiatives

Sep 2, 2022, 5:53 PM | Updated: Sep 3, 2022, 6:01 am

FILE - Members of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, from left, Richard Houskamp, Anthony Daun...

FILE - Members of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, from left, Richard Houskamp, Anthony Daunt and Mary Ellen Gurewitz listen to attorneys Olivia Flower and Steve Liedel during a hearing, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022, in Lansing, Mich. Republican-dominated courts and legislatures have been pushing back against citizen-led ballot initiatives to keep them off the ballot, in what critics say is a partisan attack on direct democracy. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

              FILE - Commissioner Bilenda Harris-Ritter asks attorney Stephen Lancaster, representing the Responsible Growth Arkansas committee, a question about the proposed ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana during the Board of Election Commissioners meeting Aug. 3, 2022 at the State Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. (Staci Vandagriff/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)
              FILE - Arizona Supreme Court Justices from left; William G. Montgomery, John R Lopez IV, Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer, Chief Justice Robert M. Brutinel, Clint Bolick and James Beene listen to oral arguments on April 20, 2021, in Phoenix. Republican-dominated courts and legislatures have been pushing back against citizen-led ballot initiatives to keep them off the ballot, in what critics say is a partisan attack on direct democracy. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
              FILE - Members of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, from left, Richard Houskamp, Anthony Daunt and Mary Ellen Gurewitz listen to attorneys Olivia Flower and Steve Liedel during a hearing, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022, in Lansing, Mich. Republican-dominated courts and legislatures have been pushing back against citizen-led ballot initiatives to keep them off the ballot, in what critics say is a partisan attack on direct democracy. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
              Part of the initiative petition amendment to the Michigan constitution is seen, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022 in Detroit. An abortion rights group in Michigan has asked the state's Supreme Court to approve a ballot question asking voters whether a right to abortion should be enshrined in the state's constitution. The filing Thursday came a day after the state's canvassing board deadlocked on the matter, with two Republican members voting to reject the question because of supposed spacing errors in petitions for the measure. (AP Photo)
              FILE - Terry Goddard speaks during an election night party on Nov. 4, 2014, in Phoenix. Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the GOP leaders of the state House and Senate are urging the state Supreme Court to overrule lower court judges and block three voter initiatives from the ballot. Goddard, a former Arizona attorney general is among a bipartisan group including business figures backing an initiative requiring full disclosure of political spending. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
              FILE - Marijuana plants for the adult recreational market are are seen in a greenhouse at Hepworth Farms in Milton, N.Y., Friday, July 15, 2022. Missouri voters are set to be the first in the nation to sign off on automatically forgiving past marijuana crimes if they approve a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational pot in November 2022. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions this year backing proposed ballot initiatives to expand voting access, ensure abortion rights and legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona, Arkansas and Michigan.

Yet voters might not get a say because Republican officials or judges have blocked the proposals from the November elections, citing flawed wording, procedural shortcomings or insufficient petition signatures.

At the same time, Republican lawmakers in Arkansas and Arizona have placed constitutional amendments on the ballot proposing to make it harder to approve citizen initiatives in the future.

The Republican pushback against the initiative process is part of a several-year trend that gained steam as Democratic-aligned groups have increasingly used petitions to force public votes on issues that Republican-led legislatures have opposed. In reliably Republican Missouri, for example, voters have approved initiatives to expand Medicaid, raise the minimum wage and legalize medical marijuana. An initiative seeking to allow recreational pot is facing a court challenge from an anti-drug activist aiming to knock it off the November ballot.

Some Democrats contend Republicans are subverting the will of the people by making the ballot initiative process more difficult.

“What is happening now is just a web of technicalities to thwart the process in states where voters are using the people’s tool to make an immediate positive change in their lives,” said Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which has worked with progressive groups sponsoring the blocked initiatives.

“That is not the way our democracy should work,” she added

Republicans who have thrown up hurdles to initiative petitions contend they are protecting the integrity of the lawmaking process against well-funded interest groups trying to bend state policies in their favor.

“I think the Legislature is a much purer way to get things done and it represents the people much better, rather than having this jungle where you just throw it on the ballot,” said South Dakota state Rep. Tim Goodwin, who has perennially targeted the initiative process with restrictions.

About half the states allow citizen initiatives, in which petition signers can bypass a legislature to place proposed laws or constitutional changes directly before voters. But executive or judicial officials often still have some role in the process, typically by certifying that the ballot wording is clear and accurate and that petition circulators gathered enough valid signatures of registered voters.

In Michigan this past week, two Republican members of the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers blocked initiatives to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution and expand opportunities for voting. Each measure had significantly more than the required 425,000 signatures. But GOP board members said the voting measure had unclear wording and the abortion measure was flawed because of spacing problems that scrunched some words together.

Supporters have appealed both decisions to the Michigan Supreme Court, which consists of a majority of Democratic-appointed judges.

The Arkansas Supreme Court, whose justices run in nonpartisan elections, is weighing an appeal of an August decision blocking an initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults.

The State Board of Election Commissioners, which has just one Democrat among its many Republicans, determined that the ballot title was misleading because it failed to mention it would repeal potency limits in an existing medical marijuana provision. Because the deadline has passed to certify initiative titles, the Supreme Court has allowed the measure on the general election ballot while it decides whether the votes will be counted.

A lawsuit by initiative supporters contends a 2019 law passed by the Republican-led Legislature violates the Arkansas Constitution by allowing the board to reject ballot titles.

“The (initiative) process in Arkansas has gotten consistently harder each cycle, as the Legislature adds more and more requirements,” said Steve Lancaster, a lawyer for Responsible Growth Arkansas, which is sponsoring the marijuana amendment.

It would get even harder if voters support a legislatively referred amendment on the November ballot that would require a 60% vote to approve citizen-initiated ballot measures or future constitutional amendments.

In Arizona, the primarily Republican-appointed Supreme Court recently blocked a proposed constitutional amendment that would have extended early voting and limited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. The measure also would have specifically prohibited the Legislature from overturning the results of presidential elections, which some Republicans had explored after then- President Donald Trump’s loss in 2020.

After a lower court initially ruled the measure could appear on the November ballot, Arizona’s high court instructed the judge to reconsider. Then it upheld a subsequent ruling throwing out enough petition signatures to prevent the initiative from qualifying for the ballot.

Still on the ballot are several other amendments referred by Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature. Those measures would limit initiatives to a single subject, require a 60% supermajority to approve tax proposals and expand the Legislature’s authority to change voter-approved initiatives.

Those proposals come after Arizona Republicans have spent the past decade enacting laws making it more difficult to get citizen initiatives on the ballot. State laws now require petition sheets to be precisely printed and ban the use of a copy machine to create new ones. Other laws require paid circulators to include their registration number on each petition sheet, get it notarized and check a box saying they were paid.

“The effect is to make it much harder, much more expensive to get the signatures to put one of these propositions on the ballot,” said Terry Goddard, a Democrat who served as the state’s attorney general from 2003 through 2011.

After years of trying, Goddard finally succeeded this year in getting an initiative on the ballot that would require nonprofit groups that spend large amounts on elections to reveal their donors.

Earlier this summer, South Dakota voters defeated a measure that would have made it harder to pass initiatives on taxes and spending. The proposal from the Republican-led Legislature would have required a 60% vote to raise taxes or spend over a certain amount of money. Voters rejected the measure by 67%.

“This just seems like a way to suppress voters. honestly,” Joshua Matzner, a Democrat, said after voting against it.


Associated Press writers Bob Christie in Phoenix and Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.


Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at and on Twitter,

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman gestures while speaking at University College London as part of his ...

Associated Press

OpenAI boss ‘heartened’ by talks with world leaders over will to contain AI risks

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said Monday he was encouraged by a desire shown by world leaders to contain any risks posed by the artificial intelligence technology his company and others are developing.

1 day ago

FILE - The draft of a bill that President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., neg...

Associated Press

Debt deal imposes new work requirements for food aid and that frustrates many Democrats

Democrats are deeply conflicted about the debt ceiling deal, fearing damage has been done to safety net programs

2 days ago

Seattle lawyer...

Associated Press

Lawsuit alleging ex-deputy falsified arrest report settled for $250K

A lawsuit filed by a Washington oyster farmer accusing a former county deputy of falsifying an arrest report

2 days ago

Mt. Rainier death...

Associated Press

Washington man climbing Mount Rainier dies near summit

A Washington state man who was trying to summit Mount Rainier this week collapsed and died near the top of the mountain.

4 days ago

biden crisis averted...

Zeke Miller and Chris Megerian

Biden celebrates a ‘crisis averted’ in Oval Office address on bipartisan debt ceiling deal

President Joe Biden celebrated a “crisis averted” in his first speech to the nation from the Oval Office Friday evening.

4 days ago

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age and Competition, ...

Associated Press

US, Europe working on voluntary AI code of conduct as calls grow for regulation

The United States and Europe are drawing up a voluntary code of conduct for artificial intelligence as the developing technology triggers warnings

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Men's Health Month...

Men’s Health Month: Why It’s Important to Speak About Your Health

June is Men’s Health Month, with the goal to raise awareness about men’s health and to encourage men to speak about their health.

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

GOP escalates fight against citizen-led ballot initiatives