Following a string of progressive victories at the ballot box and the launch of a campaign to overturn Missouri's near-total ban on abortion, Republican lawmakers tried but failed to pass an amendment Friday that would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution via ballot initiative in the future. But while that effort collapsed on the final day of this year's legislative session due to GOP infighting, Republicans will almost certainly try again next year, continuing the party's far-reaching nationwide drive to stifle direct democracy.
Just days earlier, Republicans in Ohio passed a similar amendment aimed at thwarting a citizen-backed initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, and at least eight other red states have contemplated various methods for clamping down on progressive ballot measures this year alone. In Missouri's case, the GOP amendment would have raised the level of voter support needed to approve constitutional amendments to 57% from the current simple majority; Ohio's would up it to 60%.
These widespread attacks on the initiative process come after organizers across the country have circumvented obstinate Republican-run legislatures to present popular progressive measures directly to voters—and win. In Missouri, activists have used initiatives to legalize marijuana, expand Medicaid, make redistricting fairer, raise the minimum wage to $12, and veto an anti-union "right to work" law, all since 2018.
Some of these measures, however, would have failed had the new Republican amendment been in effect, including the marijuana and Medicaid initiatives, which both passed with 53% of the vote. State House Speaker Dean Plocher explicitly expressed his belief that an abortion amendment would "absolutely" pass if only majority support were necessary, and after amendments to restrict abortion in deep-red Kansas and Kentucky both failed last year, he and his fellow Republicans have good reason to think so.
The GOP's amendment would still have required the support of voters in order to become law, albeit just a simple majority. But to convince voters to limit their own power, the amendment would also have used some cynical sleight-of-hand. The first line of the ballot summary that voters would have seen when casting their votes claimed that the amendment would prohibit noncitizens from voting in Missouri elections, even though that provision is already part of the state constitution. The plank increasing the threshold to 57%, meanwhile, would have been listed last.
Republican officials are also trying to thwart the abortion proposals in other ways. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft drafted ballot summaries that falsely say the proposed amendments (there are multiple versions) would allow "dangerous, unregulated and unrestricted abortions." However, amendment backers, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have been unable to challenge those descriptions in court because a different GOP official is engaging in his own form of obstruction.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey has refused to approve language for the petitions organizers need voters to sign because Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick, a fellow Republican, estimated the cost of implementing the amendment would be negligible. Bailey argues that the amendment could deprive Missouri of more than $12 billion in Medicaid funds, a claim that experts—including those consulted by Fitzpatrick—have rejected. But his delay means supporters can't begin gathering signatures, prompting the ACLU to sue. Only once petition language is finalized can the ACLU then sue over Ashcroft's ballot summaries, which it has indicated it will.
Republicans have claimed that changes are needed because amending the state constitution is too easy, but the statistics say otherwise: According to the Kansas City Star, voters approved just 28 of 69 citizen-backed initiatives over the course of the last century-plus, from the time they first became available in 1910 through 2022. The GOP's amendment could sharply reduce even that limited frequency if it becomes law.
And they may yet succeed: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Republicans are “all but certain to take another shot next year” when the legislature convenes again in January. Progressives will hope that festering GOP discord once again prevents the amendment from passing, though if it does, they'll still have the chance to take their cases to voters and exhort them to reject this effort to curtail their rights.