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Tag: ballot initiative (page 1 of 2)

Independent (Advisory) Commission: Utah State Legislators Gradually Loosen Grip on Redistricting

By: Maxfield Daley-Watson

After the 2010 census, Utah gained one congressional district, giving the state a total of four federal congressional seats. In 2011, when the state drew its new legislative map, the process was conducted by the state’s Republican controlled legislature. This process resulted in the creation of three heavily conservative districts and one Republican leaning district. In 2018 voters narrowly approved Proposition 4, a ballot initiative directed at creating an independent bipartisan commission with the intention of creating fairer maps. The plan for this independent commission was then edited and eventually implemented through the passage of Senate Bill 200. As a result, SB 200 appropriated 1 million dollars for the independent redistricting commission. In a less positive move, the bill also shifted the independent commission to an advisory role with the ability to draft maps that are then voted on by the state legislature. This is possible because Utah allows the state legislature to amend any enacted statute with a simple majority vote. According to Better Boundaries, the organization behind Proposition 4, the impetus for the legislative overhaul on the redistricting commission centered around the unwillingness of state law makers to place a prohibition on partisan gerrymandering in the redistricting process. Furthermore, the Utah Constitution vests redistricting power in the hands of the legislature, which added an additional wrinkle to the implementation of Proposition 4.

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Dead on Arrival: Oklahoma’s State Question 804

By: Parker Klingenberg

The Oklahoman citizen group People Not Politicians, backed by the Women Voters of Oklahoma, led the charge earlier this year to get State Question 804, also known as the Independent Redistricting Commission Initiative, on the ballot for Oklahomans voting on November 3, 2020. State Question 804 would have laid out a new framework for drawing both state and federal district lines, complying with both federal law and numerous other criteria. These lines would be drawn not by the state legislature like in the past, however, but would be drawn by a newly created Independent Redistricting Commission consisting of three members of the majority party, three members of the minority parties, and three non-party affiliated members. State Question 804 will not be on the ballot, however. The Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked it based on the grounds that the “gist,” or the summary that would appear to citizens during the process of gathering the required signatures to get on the ballot, was not “sufficiently informative to reveal its design and purpose.” Specifically, the gist failed to properly inform citizens that the ballot initiative was designed to stop partisan gerrymandering, and how the proposed committee would do so. While Oklahomans were not able to decide in November whether they want to vote for or against this proposal, it still raises interesting issues about Oklahoma’s future.

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Illinois Voters’ Will Thwarted: State Supreme Court Enshrines Strict Limits on Ballot Initiatives, Hampering Efforts to Solve Illinois’ Biggest Problems

In August of 2016, more than 563,000 Illinois voters signed a petition for a ballot initiative that many hoped would end partisan gerrymandering in the Land of Lincoln. The Illinois State Supreme Court quickly dashed those hopes when it struck down the ballot initiative as unconstitutional. The ruling affirms the Illinois constitution’s, exceptionally limited scope of potential ballot initiatives. This ruling has implications far beyond gerrymandering: this decision limits the potential for future ballot initiatives in Illinois, and thus the resolution of many of the state’s thorniest issues..

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Hitting Pause on Ballot Initiatives: How State Legislatures Can Ensure Good Citizen Lawmaking While Still Respecting Popular Will

By: Reeana Keenen

In my last post, I discussed the merits and drawbacks of ballot initiatives as a form of direct democracy. The main contention with ballot initiatives is whether, in practice, they reflect popular will. In D.C. this past summer, the D.C. Council cited this concern when they decided to overturn Initiative 77, which had been approved by a 12 percent margin of voters in the same election that allowed many of those same Council members to secure their Council seats. The Council claimed the low turnout in the primary election on which the ballot measure appeared was so low it could not reflect the true will of the people. The Council further claimed that Initiative 77 passed with too narrow a margin to allow it to stand.

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California’s Competing Death Penalty Propositions: What Happens if Voters Approve Both?

By: Chelsea Brewer

On November 8th, California voters will be faced with competing propositions affecting the fate of the death penalty in the State. Both propositions operate on “the premise that the system is broken” and claim that justice will be best served if passed. However, the voters’ options regarding the death penalty’s future are in direct conflict with each other.

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The Dollars Behind Direct Democracy

By: Emily Hessler

On November 8, Colorado voters will decide whether to approve a hotly contested measure––Initiative 71––that would make it more difficult to get initiatives on the state’s ballot and to pass proposed constitutional amendments. The so-called “raise the bar” amendment would require that, in order for a constitutional initiative to make it onto the ballot, two percent of voters in each of Colorado’s thirty-five state senate districts sign the supporting petition. Initiative 71 would also require that constitutional initiatives receive fifty-five percent voter approval to pass.

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Taking the Initiative: Coloradans Set to Vote on Proposal to Limit Ballot Initiatives and Constitutional Amendments

By: Emily Hessler

Coloradans looking to limit the number of citizen initiatives on the state’s ballots are using an unlikely tool to achieve their goal: the citizen initiative. Supporters argue that a proposed measure on November’s ballot––Initiative 71––would “raise the bar” by making it more difficult to get citizen initiatives on Colorado’s ballots and by increasing the percentage of votes required to amend the state’s constitution.

Under Article V of the Colorado Constitution, the ballot initiative is a power “the people reserve to themselves.” Pursuant to this constitutional provision, Colorado citizens can petition to include proposals on general election ballots for new legislation––statutory initiatives––or for constitutional amendments––constitutional initiatives. Twenty-four states allow initiatives, but only sixteen permit that constitutional initiatives go directly on the ballot without first being presented to the legislature.

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Winds of Change in the Mount Rushmore State

By: Bethany Bostron

Voters in the unassuming prairie paradise of South Dakota will have the opportunity this fall to decide whether the state should create a new public finance system. The state usually flies under the national radar, so when it peeks its head above, you want to pay close attention. The question will be posed as Initiated Measure 22 – “An instituted measure to revise State campaign finance and lobbying laws, create a publicly funded campaign finance program, create an ethics commission, and appropriate funds.” According to State Attorney General Marty Jackley, the measure revises State campaign finance laws by limiting contribution amounts to political parties, political action committees, and candidates running for legislative, state-wide, or county office. The main portion of the plan creates a state-funded campaign finance program. Statewide and legislative candidates who agree to certain limits on campaign contributions and expenditures are able to participate in the funding program. Each registered voter is then assigned two $50 “credits” that he or she is free to assign to any participating candidate. Funding for the program comes from a “State general-fund appropriation of $9 per registered voter,” which is not allowed to exceed $12 million at any given time. An ethics commission is also created to administer the credit program and enforce state law. An additional measure prohibits high-level officials and government employees from lobbying for two years after leaving the government and limits lobbyists’ gifts to officials. The initiative is effectively an overhaul of the current system and Attorney General Jackley cautions voters that “the measure may be challenged in court on [state] constitutional grounds.”

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PA: The Language of Amending

By: Melissa Rivera

Imagine walking into the voting booth and reading these words: “Should judges be required to retire on the last day of the year they turn 75 years old?” How would you answer? Would the answer depend upon whether the judges already had to retire at age 70 or if you were being asked to add a whole new requirement? This is exactly the consideration voters in Pennsylvania may be facing when they head out to the polls in November.

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The Will of the People: Michigan’s Ballot Initiative to Allow By-Mail Voting

Alexander Hamilton once said, “A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law.” In Michigan, the citizens have incredible power to voice their opinion and influence the sovereignty of their state. Through initiative, Michiganders may propose either a constitutional amendment, which does not require state legislative approval before being placed on the ballot, or state statutes, which must first be submitted to the state legislature for approval before being placed on the ballot. In order to participate in the initiative process, Michigan does not even require that the petitioner register with the state, but rather only requires that the petitioner report campaign contributions in excess of $500. However, petitioners may submit their proposal to the Bureau of Elections in order to greatly reduce the chance that formatting errors will prevent the proposal from being accepted.

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