Coleman and Carnahan: Missouri state politicians vote to limit voters’ constitutional rights | Other reviews

The Republican-controlled Missouri Legislature is poised to make it nearly impossible for Missourians to pass ballot referendums to overturn extreme laws enacted by the GOP or use popular vote initiatives to pass laws directly when the legislature is complacent and does not act.

In recent years, citizen vote initiatives in Missouri have successfully extended Medicaid to more than 275,000 low-income Missourians and another has raised the state’s minimum wage by $7.85 an hour in 2018 to $12 an hour in 2023. This will impact 677,000 Missourians. These are two important issues on which the legislature had not acted, so ordinary citizens organized and enacted them.

These citizen successes have raised the ire of most GOP lawmakers, and they are fighting back. Their goal is to muzzle Missourians by making it more difficult to express the popular will. For example, the Missouri House recently approved legislation that:

• Increase the required number of signatures for initiative petitions to 10% from the current 8%, and signatures must come from all eight congressional districts instead of the current requirement of six districts. This would likely increase the required number of signatures by over 100,000.

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• Increase the current simple majority vote for enactment to a two-thirds majority requirement.

Rep. Mike Henderson, the Republican sponsor of the House-passed bill, even admitted to reporters that citizens resorted to ballot initiatives because “it’s too often used to extend things that can’t go through the Legislative Assembly.

Other bills have been introduced that would require ballot initiatives to first be approved by the Legislative Assembly before being submitted to voters. Such an arrangement would make a mockery of the public’s right to petition its government.

Another bill would require constitutional amendments to be approved by a majority of registered voters instead of a majority of votes cast on election day. Imagine if such a scheme were adopted to force lawmakers to win their own elections by that margin. Don’t hold your breath.

These proposed changes to the state constitution, if passed, ensure that politicians in Jefferson City would be insulated from public opinion in its most direct form.

We understand why most Republicans are determined to pursue these misguided changes. We are both 32 years old combined as members of two legislative bodies – the US Congress and the Missouri House of Representatives. We know the thinking of many legislators: They want all the power to pass laws, all the time — even when they’re not using that power for the people. In other words, proponents of these changes are telling voters: Leave us alone.

It is the mindset of a legislature that is overwhelmingly dominated by one political party.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade was right when she said citizens wouldn’t have to resort to bypassing the Legislative Assembly “if we did our job in the first place.”

The Legislative Assembly has in the past received help from Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who must approve ballot wording explaining the initiative to the public. Often the strategy is to confuse the audience or run out of time.

Several lawsuits filed against Ashcroft allege that his language is “insufficient, unfair and argumentative” and refers to terms that are not in the language of the petition. Proponents of the ballot initiative believe the language is calculated to prejudice voters against the proposal.

In a separate action, ballot supporters say the Secretary of State’s actions have slowed the process of collecting signatures. A legal brief by the plaintiffs said they were “eating up much of the traffic time and effectively extinguishing the constitutional right”.

Missourians have had the power to submit questions to voters for more than 100 years. The current effort to sabotage ballot initiatives is an attack on our democracy. It cannot be justified. We urge Missourians to contact their state senator to voice their opposition to this legislative sleight of hand designed to disenfranchise citizens under the Missouri constitution.

Tom Coleman is a former Republican member of the Missouri House and U.S. Congressman. He is an advisor to several pro-democracy organizations, including Protect Democracy and the United States United Democracy Center. Russ Carnahan is a former Democratic member of the Missouri House and member of the United States Congress. He is Senior Policy Advisor for Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, LLP.

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