Category Archives: direct democracy

“Legal fight continues with appeals over proposed immigration initiative for Arizona Nov. 5 ballot”

AP:

The fight to keep a proposed border initiative off Arizona’s Nov. 5 ballot is not over yet.

Immigrant advocates kept the issue alive this week by filing notice to the state Supreme Court that they will appeal the judge’s ruling.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge on July 12 rejected an effort by the advocates to keep the proposed initiative off the ballot. The advocates argue that the measure breaks the rules because it deals with more than a single subject.

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“Alaska election officials to recalculate signatures for ranked vote repeal measure after court order”

AP:

A state court judge on Friday disqualified numerous booklets used to gather signatures for an initiative that aims to repeal Alaska’s ranked choice voting system and gave elections officials a deadline to determine if the measure still had sufficient signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Christina Rankin in Anchorage comes in a lawsuit brought by three voters that seeks to disqualify the repeal measure from the ballot. 

…. Rankin set a Wednesday deadline for the division to remove the signatures and booklets she found should be disqualified and for the division [of elections] to determine if the measure still has sufficient signatures to qualify for the ballot.

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Utah Supreme Court Rules for League of Women Voters in Case to Reinstate Nonpartisan Redistricting Initiative

Here’s the opinion in League of Women Voters v. Utah State Legislature (h/t Ballot Access News). A key excerpt:

The novel question before us asks: what happens when Utahns use their initiative power to exercise their “right to alter or reform their government” by passing an initiative that contains government reforms, and the Legislature repeals it and replaces it with another law that eliminates the reforms the people voted for? . . . .

[W]e hold that when Utahns exercise their right to reform the government through a citizen initiative, their exercise of these rights is protected from government infringement. This means that government-reform initiatives are constitutionally protected from unfettered legislative amendment, repeal, or replacement. Although the Legislature has authority to amend or repeal statutes, it is well settled that legislative action cannot unduly infringe or restrain the exercise of constitutional rights. Consequently, when Utahns exercise their right to reform the government through an initiative, this limits the Legislature’s authority to amend or repeal the initiative. . . .

In this case, Plaintiffs claim. . . that Utahns used their initiative power as a means of exercising their right to reform the government when they passed Proposition 4. And they claim that the Legislature violated those rights when it enacted S.B. 200, which repealed Proposition 4 and replaced it with a new law that nullified Proposition 4’s key provisions. The Legislature’s general legislative power to amend, repeal, and enact statutes does not defeat this claim as a matter of law.

Update: The AP has this story, with more background on yesterday’s decision.

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“Federal appeals court to reconsider case affecting Attorney General Dave Yost’s authority to block proposed ballot issues”

Cleveland.com:

A federal appeals court will reconsider a recent decision that could affect Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s ability to block future proposed ballot-issue campaigns via a state law that gives his office authority to sign off on proposed language that those campaigns must circulate with petitions to qualify for the ballot.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision late last month, ordered Yost to approve petition language for a proposed state constitutional amendment that would make it easier for Ohioans to sue police for misconduct. Yost, a Republican, had repeatedly rejected petition language proposed by backers of the Protecting Ohioans Constitutional Rights amendment for numerous reasons, including the amendment’s proposed title.

But the appeals court announced on Monday that enough of the court’s judges had voted to perform what’s called an en banc review, in which every judge on the court votes on a case, and not just the randomly selected three judges that issue an initial decision. The broader review will replace the previous decision, issued by two judges appointed by Democratic presidents.

My earlier coverage is here.

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“Sixth Circuit Rules 2-1 that Ohio Attorneys General Cannot Indefinitely Block Circulation of Initiative Petitions”

BAN:

On May 29, the Sixth Circuit issued an opinion in Brown v Yost, 24-3354, that is protective of the ability of people to use the initiative process in Ohio.  The Ohio law does not permit a statewide initiative to circulate until the proponents collect 1,000 signatures and submit their proposed initiative and a summary to the Attorney General.  If the Attorney General agrees that the summary is fair, he or she then send it on the Ohio Ballot Board, which then sends it on to the Secretary of State.  Only then can the group start to collect the signatures.  This year 413,000 signatures are needed, and the due date is July 3.

The group that filed the lawsuit has been trying to get started since last year, but the Attorney General has rejected their proposed summary six times.  The Sixth Circuit ordered the Attorney General to send the paperwork to the Ohio Ballot Board, a process that should be quick and should let the group finally start to get its signatures.  The measure would abolish qualified immunity for police officers.  The decision was 2-1.  Here is the Opinion.  It is by Judge Karen Nelson Moore, a Clinton appointee, and is also signed by Judge Andre Mathis, a Biden appointee.  The dissent is by Judge John K. Bush, a Trump appointee.

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“‘Deceptive’ MO ballot question bans non-U.S. citizens from voting. It’s already illegal”

KC Star:

When Missouri voters head to the ballot box this year, they’ll be asked to sign off on a measure that would ban ranked-choice voting or ranking candidates by preference.

But the first bullet point that will appear on the ballot question has nothing to do with that issue. It instead will ask Missourians whether to ban non-U.S. citizens from voting in the state, a practice that is already illegal. Disputes among lawmakers over whether to include a ban on non-citizen voting ultimately tanked a separate measure to weaken direct democracy. It was a key win for Democrats, who argued Republicans were using the non-citizen language as a way to deceive voters.

However, Missouri voters will still see similar language on the ballot this year. House Republicans, in the waning hours of the legislative session, passed a measure that included a ban on non-citizen voting attached to the ballot question that would outlaw ranked-choice voting.

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“Arizona Republicans Set Up a Ballot Measure to Squash Future Ballot Measures”

Bolts Magazine: One more Republican legislative attack on ballot measures. The Arizona legislature seeks to make the process more difficult through a constitutional amendment imposing strict geographic requirements. These measures are highly problematic because ballot initiatives are one of the few options that voters have to circumvent gridlock, polarization, and political entrenchment.

What triggered this one? An initiative to protect abortion access in Arizona that has gathered more signatures than it needs to make the November ballot.

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Ohio: “Organizers sue Yost over rejection of ballot proposal that would abolish qualified immunity”

Cleveland.com:

Citizens behind an effort to abolish “qualified immunity” – a legal doctrine that can shield police from liability amid accusations of excessive use of force – are suing Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, alleging he’s illegally blocking them from moving toward placing the issue on the ballot.

Since February 2023, backers of the “Protecting Ohioans’ Constitutional Rights” initiative have submitted their proposed state constitutional amendment and summary language five times to Yost’s office. Yost, who’s only tasked to ensure the summary language accurately describes the amendment, has rejected their filings every time, most recently on March 14.

Irritated with what they say are baseless denials, they asked the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday to force Yost to grant their petition, which they say truthfully and accurately represents the constitutional amendment they’re proposing. The litany of “incorrect and unfounded” objections Yost raised “suggests there are no circumstances under which” he will fulfill his legal duty. Rather, they argue, he’s trying to stall them by running out a clock– such amendments require submission of hundreds of thousands of valid signatures by July 3 to make the November ballot.

Their lawsuit lists a series of technical and legalistic edits they made to hew to Yost’s objections, an editing process that proved fruitless.

“We did everything he told us to do, and then he came up with four new ones,” said Mark Brown, a professor of constitutional law at Capital University who’s representing the organizers, in an interview. “We just got fed up.”

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“Red State AGs Keep Trying to Kill Ballot Measures by a Thousand Cuts”

Bolts:

When a coalition of voting rights activists in Ohio set out last December to introduce a new ballot initiative to expand voting access, they hardly anticipated that the thing to stop them would be a matter of word choice.

But that’s what Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost took issue with when he reviewed the proposal’s summary language and title, then called “Secure and Fair Elections.” Among other issues, Yost said the title “does not fairly or truthfully summarize or describe the actual content of the proposed amendment.” 

So the group tried again, this time naming their measure “The Ohio Voters Bill of Rights.” Again, Yost rejected them, for the same issue, with the same explanation. After that, activists sued to try and certify their proposal—the first step on the long road toward putting the measure in front of voters on the ballot. 

“AG Yost doesn’t have the authority to comment on our proposed title, let alone the authority to reject our petition altogether based on the title alone,” the group said in a statement announcing their plans to mount a legal challenge. “The latest rejection of our proposed ballot summary from AG Yost’s office is nothing but a shameful abuse of power to stymie the right of Ohio citizens to propose amendments to the Ohio Constitution.”

These Ohio advocates aren’t alone in their struggle to actually use the levers of direct democracy. Already in 2024, several citizen-led attempts to put issues directly to voters are hitting bureaucratic roadblocks early on in the process at the hands of state officials. …

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“Republican legislatures in some states are trying to keep abortion off the ballot”

AP:

Legislative efforts in Missouri and Mississippi are attempting to prevent voters from having a say over abortion rights, building on anti-abortion strategies seen in other states, including last year in Ohio.

Democrats and abortion rights advocates say the efforts are evidence that Republican lawmakers and abortion opponents are trying to undercut democratic processes meant to give voters a direct role in forming state laws.

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“Explainer: Shaping Democracy: 2023’s Statewide Ballot Measures and What Lies Ahead in 2024”

Derek Clinger:

The past year saw a continued trend of increased interest in direct democracy, with the highest number of statewide ballot measures for an odd-numbered election year in over 15 years. These measures, which came from both state legislatures and citizen-led initiative campaigns, addressed an array of subjects ranging from reproductive rights to religious rights, public utilities to public benefits, and taxation to timber production.

Many of the measures decided also involved matters related to democracy. These measures presented voters with essential questions like who can vote, how elections should be run, and whether to restrict their own ability to engage in direct democracy in the future. The particulars of the measures varied, as did the voters’ responses. And with the coming presidential election cycle in 2024, voters can expect to see even more of these types of ballot measures in the coming year.

This explainer recaps 2023’s democracy-related ballot measures, exploring the legal and political context in which they were proposed, as well as some of the arguments offered for and against them. It then looks ahead to the democracy-related measures that may appear on the ballot during the pivotal 2024 presidential election cycle….

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Fascinating Election Law Issue Raised in Petition for Review to California Supreme Court

The Petition for Review in Alliance San Diego v. City of San Diego raises a very interesting issue:

QUESTIONS PRESENTED

1. The City of San Diego (the “City”) held an election on an initiative proposing a special tax (Measure C) on the express condition and with the uncontradicted public understanding that a two-thirds majority vote of the electorate was required for its passage. The measure undeniably failed to garner enough “yes” votes to meet that threshold, yet after the votes were cast and counted, the City declared that the measure had actually passed by a simple majority vote. May a city change the outcome of an election by lowering the applicable vote threshold after the election had already been completed?

2. The Elections Code requires that a city council “declare the results” of an election on a ballot measure “no later than the next regularly scheduled city council meeting following presentation of the 28-day canvass of the returns, or at a special meeting called for this purpose.” (Elec. Code, § 10263, subd. (b); see also Elec. Code § 15400.) Here, the City Council waited a full year after receiving the canvass of the returns before declaring that Measure C had passed under a lower vote threshold than stated in the City Clerk’s certification. Does a city have the discretion to delay declaring whether a measure has passed or failed, and to contravene the official certification of the election results by the impartial elections official?

I’ll be watching this one closely.

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