Electoral measures have been fundamental to defend abortion rights. Now, Republican politicians want to change the rules


Washington – After the overwhelming success abortion rights supporters saw at the polls in the 2022 election cycle, some GOP-led states have made efforts to change the rules governing the ballot measure process, pushing new limitations that make it difficult for initiatives not only to go to the ballot, but also to get approved.

In the six states where the problem existed on the 2022 ballot — California, Michigan, Vermont, Kentucky, Montana and Kansas — the pro-abortion position won. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont all approved state ballot measures enshrining abortion rights in their respective constitutions, while proposals restricting access to abortion in Kansas, Kentucky and Montana be rejected

Ohio GOP lawmakers seek to raise amendment threshold to 60%

The 2022 elections were the first held after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wadeand supporters of abortion rights intend to build on last year’s success. In Ohio, abortion rights advocates are working to put a measure on the ballot this November that would enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution.

But at the same time they’re campaigning to get the proposal, called the “Right to Reproductive Freedom with Health and Safety Protections,” before voters, Ohio’s Republican lawmakers have made their own effort to make it more difficult for constitutional amendments to win. approval: raising the threshold for approving amendments to the state constitution from a simple majority to 60%.

And last week, amid protests over the Columbus statute, lawmakers voted to send the resolution imposing a supermajority threshold on voters. The 60% vote proposal will be on the ballot in elections scheduled for Aug. 8 — barring a state court order to stop it — and if voters accept the new supermajority marker, it would apply to initiatives that meet the requirements to appear before the electorate in the year. From November

Ohio Republicans have said the push to change the rules surrounding constitutional amendments stems from an attempt to protect the state constitution from special interest groups. But Kelly Hall, executive director of The Fairness Project, said the 2022 victories by abortion rights advocates are a motivating factor for GOP state lawmakers to push for changes to the ballot measure process.

“Legislators who are elected to represent the people are clear that they don’t want the people’s opinion expressed in law,” he told CBS News. “The harder it is for you to get involved, the less of these issues will be taken out of the dustbin of legislative legislation and brought to the public, and that’s something elected lawmakers don’t want to happen.”

The proposed modification in the Ohio Constitution states that each individual has the right to make his or her own reproductive decisions, including contraception and abortion, and prohibits the state from prohibiting or interfering with the “voluntary exercise of that right”.

The measure would allow the state to ban abortion after fetal viability, which it defines as “the point in a pregnancy at which, in the professional judgment of the pregnant patient’s physician, the fetus has a significant probability of survival beyond of the womb with reasonable measures.” .”

To get on the ballot, supporters must collect more than 440,000 signatures by July 25, and Jaime Miracle, deputy director of Pro-Choice Ohio, said organizers are ahead of their projected goal at this point in the campaign

“Abortion extremists know they can’t win on a level playing field. They can’t win because pro-reproductive freedom outnumbers anti-abortion people,” Miracle told CBS News.

Now, abortion rights supporters find themselves effectively running two campaigns around ballot measures, one aimed at defeating the supermajority threshold proposed in August, and a second aimed at passing the abortion rights ballot initiative in November.

“They know 50%, we’re going to win, so they have to rig the system,” Miracle said. “The message it sends to voters is that this Legislature, these anti-abortion extremists are trying to do everything they can to silence the voices of voters, and that’s because their voice is their vote.”

National efforts to change the requirements of the voter referendum process

140 bills related to the initiative and referendum process have been introduced in state legislatures this year, and 12 measures have been enacted so far, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The proposals, some of which will require voter approval after they clear states like Ohio, include changes to the signature-gathering process for initiatives to qualify for the ballot and increases to threshold for constitutional amendments to gain approval, while others are technical.

Arkansas and South Dakota

In Arkansas, the GOP-led legislature passed and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed legislation that increased the number of counties in the state that must collect signatures from 15 to 50 of the state’s 75 counties.

But the Arkansas League of Women Voters and state Sen. Bryan King, a Republican, are challenging the law in state court, arguing that it places “unwarranted and unconstitutional restrictions on citizens’ ability to circulate petitions.” The change, they said, will prevent initiatives and referendums from appearing on the ballot starting in November 2024. The state is asking a judge to throw out the case.

King was one of two Republicans who opposed the bill in the Arkansas Senate, and believes it will close an avenue for voters to turn to state lawmakers to change laws they disagree with and directly challenge his government

“A lot of this comes down to whichever political party is in power. They want to insulate themselves from their own decisions,” he told CBS News, adding that such efforts will lead to more voter disillusionment with his incumbents. elected

In addition to the measures considered in 2023, state lawmakers introduced more than 200 legislative proposals in 2022, just under 10% of which were enacted. according to Ballotpedia.

In Arkansas and South Dakota, measures that would have imposed a supermajority threshold for the adoption of constitutional amendments and ballot initiatives failed, while those in Arizona approved changing the support needed to pass ballot measures related to taxes

These efforts were not aimed at keeping abortion off the ballot, but at other issues where there is light between the policy preferences of voters and those of their elected officials.

“The abortion issue is adding fuel to an already burning fire that conservatives have watched as red states pass so-called progressive issues at the ballot box: raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid, decriminalizing marijuana, voting to choose rank” , Hall. said “They’re seeing the tool being used in particular ways even in Republican-trifect states, so they’re working to close that change.”

He warned that enacting new rules to add new impediments to the initiative process raises the barriers to participation in direct democracy and will ensure that only campaigns supported by deep-pocketed industries succeed.

“More signatures are needed, spread across geographies, bureaucratic barriers like volunteers and other people who collect signatures go through background checks, these are a lot of things that these extremist legislatures are trying to put in the way of people qualifying these initiatives for people’s votes.” she said.


Beyond the new changes to the proposal in Arkansas and Ohio, Republicans in the Missouri Legislature tried during their legislative session this year to eliminate the simple majority vote needed to amend the state constitution and increase to 57%.

But state senators failed to adopt a measure that would have sent the issue of raising the threshold to voters, and their inaction led state GOP lawmakers to hope it would pave the way for Missouri voters to pass an initiative to restore access to abortion in November 2024.

“The Senate should be held accountable for allowing abortion to return to Missouri,” Republican House Speaker Dean Plocher said last week.

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