In 2011, Ohio voters repealed a law proposed by Republicans that aimed to limit unions’ collective bargaining rights. Then-GOP Gov. John Kasich acknowledged and respected the decision of the voters. However, the tone from Ohio Republicans was different when their recent attempt to impose restrictions on passing amendments to the state constitution was resoundingly rejected by voters. This proposal would have made it more difficult to pass an abortion rights measure in November. Republican Senate President Matt Huffman blamed various factors for its failure but never mentioned respecting the will of the majority of Ohio voters who voted against the proposal.
This contrast highlights the growing antagonism among elected Republicans towards citizen-initiated ballot measures, which represent the purest form of direct democracy. The Republican Party, which controls the legislatures in several states, sees these ballot measures as a threat to their power. Attempts to undermine the citizen ballot initiative process have historically come from both parties, especially when one party monopolizes state legislatures and the governorship. When in power, politicians tend to restrict the voice of the statewide electorate that may oppose their efforts to control the process.
A recent report by the nonpartisan Fairness Project reveals that six states where Republicans control the legislature have either passed, attempted to pass, or are currently working to pass expanded supermajority requirements for voters to approve statewide ballot measures. Additionally, at least six states, including Ohio, have sought to increase the number of counties where signatures must be gathered. Various states have imposed restrictions such as prohibiting out-of-state petition circulators, banning paid circulators altogether, requiring oaths from circulators, conducting background checks, and imposing cumbersome font size requirements on petitions.
According to Sarah Walker, the policy and legal advocacy director for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Republicans are seeking to restrict the ballot initiative process due to the rising influence of left-leaning organizations winning campaigns in recent years. However, she believes there are legislative measures that can address concerns about outside special interests without limiting the ballot initiative process.
The aggressive actions of Republican supermajorities in the Ohio Statehouse have motivated reformers to push for changes in the ballot initiative process. These actions include supporting strict abortion bans, refusing to pass proposed gun control measures after mass shootings, and producing unconstitutional political maps. Missouri is another state where Republicans plan to raise the threshold for amending the state constitution. Voters there had to resort to direct democracy to achieve policy changes after lawmakers failed to act.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who sees the fight over the initiative process as a battle against out-of-state special interests, acknowledged that the issue is far from resolved. However, the Fairness Project’s executive director, Kelly Hall, believes that the promise of Ohio Republicans to continue restricting the initiative process reflects issues with representational democracy rather than direct democracy. She argues that corporate influence on state lawmakers is more significant than the influence of out-of-state special interests on ballot measures.
In conclusion, there is an increasing antagonism among elected Republicans towards citizen-initiated ballot measures. Republican-controlled states are implementing or attempting to implement restrictions on the ballot initiative process, which they see as a threat to their power. However, critics argue that the agenda of corporate interests holds more sway over state lawmakers than the influence of out-of-state special interests on direct democracy. The battle over the initiative process is likely to continue in the coming years as both sides seek to shape the future of democratic decision-making in the United States.