Restricting access to voting is one obvious way Republicans are making America less democratic, but they are also working behind the scenes to eliminate another way regular citizens can get their voices heard.
Because we are a representative democracy, the most obvious way to get our values and voices heard in our federal or state government is by electing politicians who hold our same values. But there’s another tool we have that lets us practice direct democracy — yes, a way to get something done that doesn’t require our politicians writing and passing a bill.
It’s the ballot initiative process.
Initiatives are when citizens propose a new law by collecting enough signatures and then putting it on the ballot so voters can make the final decision. Ballot initiatives are how grassroots groups got minimum wage increased in Arkansas and Missouri, and how Arizona and Montana legalized recreational marijuana, despite strong Republican majorities in those state legislatures.
Initiatives are how progressive laws have been passed even in conservative states. But it’s not just a tool for Democrats. Conservatives famously got a same-sex marriage ban passed in California back in 2008 (prior to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that overturned that, and other similar laws.)
Today, Republicans are attacking the ballot initiative process like never before. They could not be more clear with their actions that they don’t want citizens like you and me having any kind of say in what kinds of laws get passed.
So far this year, Republicans have introduced 144 bills to restrict the ballot initiative processes in 32 states (not every state has an initiative process.) 19 of those bills have already been signed into law by Republican governors. Source
In South Dakota a new bill requires that ballot initiatives be written in 14 point font size and is limited to one piece of paper (that includes the entire text of the initiative plus all the signatures they need to gather.) In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a deeply ironic law limiting campaign contributions to just $3,000 to support initiatives.
It’s incredibly important to pay attention to these attacks on our democracy. While Republicans can circumvent our ability to get initiatives on the ballot by putting up barriers with new laws, sometimes they try to pass state constitutional amendments to limit the initiative process — in fact, South Dakota has such an amendment coming up for voters to vote on in the June 2022 primary election!
We need to recognize that this is an active campaign by conservatives to limit our ability to practice democracy, and fight against it.
What we can do
To stay on top of the news regarding these attacks on ballot initiatives, consider signing up for the newsletter from the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a liberal organization that works to bring awareness to this issue and help grassroots groups strategize around initiatives. You’ll learn early on which states need our attention, and how we can mobilize around those efforts.
Thank you for taking action!