Less than two weeks after the November 2014 election, only three proposed initiative petitions for the 2016 ballot had been filed with the Missouri secretary of state’s office.
But this time, less than two weeks after the November 8 election, the 2018 floodgates are already open. As of Thursday, at least 39 proposed initiative petitions have been filed. Dave Robertson, head of the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, ties the state’s early deluge of 2018 initiatives to voter unrest, nationally as well as locally.
Many Americans are upset with Congress and how it has handled various issues, he said. As a result, some voters in initiative-friendly states like Missouri are increasingly seeing initiatives as a way to address controversial proposals.
For example? “I think there’s a lot of pessimism about legislatures in many states tackling both medical marijuana and legalizing recreational use of marijuana, and also tackling the issue of campaign finance,” Robertson said.
Proposed 2018 ballot issues
Legalizing marijuana – for medical or recreational use – and campaign-finance restrictions are among the chief topics in the 39 Missouri initiatives filed so far. Other proposals would increase the state’s minimum wage – up to $12 or $15 an hour – or outlaw most lobbyists’ gifts to state lawmakers.
Several of the initiatives also would require state legislators to wait one or two years after leaving office before they could become lobbyists.
And on the campaign-finance front, several proposals would tweak the campaign-finance limits that voters just approved Nov. 8. Most of the initiatives focusing on that subject seek to set the state’s top individual donation limit at $2,500 – a tad below the $2,600 limit in Amendment 2, the initiative overwhelmingly approved by Missouri voters earlier this month.
It should be noted that most of this early crowd of initiatives consists of duplicates, with the sponsors filing multiple versions of a proposed initiative addressing the same general issue.
Missouri is a friendly state for initiative petitions
Of the six issue proposals on Missouri’s Nov. 8 ballot, all but one were placed there by initiatives. The backers had filed the proposals, then – after obtaining approval to circulate them – they spent months collecting the tens of thousands of required signatures from registered voters. The signatures must come from at least six of the state’s eight congressional districts, with a minimum number required in each district based on a complicated formula.
Even with those hurdles, Missouri’s initiative process is deemed among the most lenient in the country. Only 18 states allow voters to use the initiative process to put something on the ballot. But most of those states – including Illinois – have more restrictions that make it tougher for a proposed initiative to get before voters.
Although Robertson sees initiative petitions as examples of democracy at work, he warns that they can cause problems if voters increasingly go that route.
California, for example, has become notorious for the flood of initiative proposals that often make its ballots. This fall, for example, California voters were faced with 17 ballot issues that had gotten their starts as initiative petitions. At least 11 were approved on Nov. 8, and four were defeated. For two others in close contests, their fate is still in doubt as the counting continues.
In Missouri anyway, the odds of getting on the ballot are slim. Although five initiatives did make this fall’s ballot, they came from a field of 90. The rest had fallen by the wayside, often because backers failed to find the money or manpower to collect the necessary signatures.
Of the five initiative-spawned issues on Missouri's November statewide ballot, only two were approved. One focuses on the aforementioned campaign-donation limits, while the other bars any sales taxes on services, such as those provided by by hairdressers or real-estate agents.
Both measures, Amendment 2 and Amendment 4, are changes in Missouri's constitution. As such, they will be tough to change or eliminate.