The initiative petition process is a right we share enshrined in Missouri’s constitution, Article III, Section 49:
“The people reserve power to propose and enact or reject laws and amendments to the constitution by the initiative, independent of the general assembly, and also reserve power to approve or reject by referendum any act of the general assembly …”
Our legislators work for us. And when they don’t move forward policy as we see fit, we have the right to bring important proposals directly to the people. We, as ordinary citizens, use the initiative petition process to build power for ourselves and our neighbors. Unfortunately, some legislators believe that they alone should hold the power– and so they are trying to restrict ours. Don’t let them.
Each of us has unique insight into our individual experiences with Missouri policy, and we know best what helps and hinders our everyday lives. Our state’s founders built this critical mechanism for citizens to enact policy into our state constitution. We have used the initiative petition process to authorize Medicaid expansion, prohibit new sales taxes, legalize medical marijuana, and raise the minimum wage.
In recent years, this one included, Missouri lawmakers are taking aim at that process. 28 separate bills related to initiative petitions have been filed so far this session. Almost all of them are trying to introduce new barriers to the process that would make it near impossible for a petition to ever make it to the ballot or get enough votes for approval.
Here’s what the sponsors of those bills don’t want you to know: the current system works. The initiative petition process is not partisan. It is good for all of us. Throughout our state’s history, it has benefited individuals of all political ideologies whose needs weren’t being met by their lawmaking representatives.
Proposed legislation is significantly raising the level of difficulty – to the point of near impossibility. The process is already appropriately difficult.
Missouri’s Initiative Petition Process – The Basics
- The Petition: A petition is created and filed with Missouri’s Secretary of State. SOS, Attorney General, and State Auditor all have roles in reviewing and approving for accuracy, fairness, legal content, and that it meets necessary requirements.
- Distribution: Signatures are collected from at least 2/3 of Missouri’s districts (6 of 8). Circulators must be 18+, registered with SOS, no forgery convictions, and must sign a notarized affidavit swearing they witnessed every signature.
- Signatures: Signatures are collected from only Missouri registered voters. For state law, 5% of gubernatorial vote is needed (minimum of 107,246 signatures). For constitutional amendments, 8% of gubernatorial vote is needed (minimum of 171,592 signatures).
- The Vote: If enough signatures are collected, the proposal is presented to Missouri registered voters (also called a “direct initiative”). A simple majority vote (50%+1) is needed for approval.
There are several detailed requirements not represented here, but this gives us the gist. Nothing about this process can remotely be construed as an easy way to get legislation to the people, yet lawmakers are trying to make it even more difficult.
Proposed legislation seeks to add districts and increase percentages to what is required today. One proposal suggests requiring signatures from 8% of all districts = an increase in 175,000 signatures that would be needed just to get a petition on the ballot. Another suggests a signature threshold as high as 15% requiring 650,720 signatures in total. Collecting this many signatures to get a petition on the ballot would be very near impossible.
What else is impossible? Getting 8 out of 10 people to agree on just about anything – especially when they’re at the ballot box. One of these proposals would require initiative petitions to do just that by raising the vote threshold to a majority of all registered voters. Missouri has 4.3 million legal, registered voters. Voter turnout patterns for Missouri hover around 65%. 65% of 4.3 million is 2,795,000. A majority of all Missouri 2022 registered voters is 2,169,068 – 77% of the average show of voters.
Other Missouri lawmakers are asking for the number of approval votes needed to increase from a simple majority to two-thirds for approval which, for last year’s ballot initiatives, would have required (depending on which topic) an increase of tens of thousands up to more than a quarter of a million more votes than what was received for any of them.
For reference, there were five ballot initiatives Missourians voted on last November. The yes votes and no votes combined on each of them – regardless of topic or whether they approved – fall short of both of these proposed requirements (Fig.2). To be clear, this would indicate that not a single ballot initiative would likely be approved in future elections.
Figure 1. 2022 Ballot Initiatives and Measures for Comparison
The proposed changes will make excluding regular citizens from using the petition process an absolute certainty, and make yet another aspect of our government feel completely out of reach for many. The money and power needed to afford such an expense (several million of dollars) and to mobilize the needed people and infrastructure to get anything done under the proposed changes will add to the growing mistrust that so many people already feel about our elected officials and governing process.
Some legislators are claiming that Missouri voters use the process too frequently to amend the Missouri Constitution. It is actually rare and is not a process that is being abused.
Of the 185 times that Missouri’s Constitution has been amended since 1910, 155 of those amendments were proposed by the Missouri Legislature. Only 28 of those amendments were proposed by the people through the initiative petition process. That’s right– 85 percent of the amendments to the constitution originated in the legislature. So why are they trying to take away citizen’s rights, specifically?
- Total initiative petitions approved for circulation in Missouri 2022: 49
- Total citizen-led initiative petitions which met the signature requirement and appeared on the ballot: 1
- Total ballot measures on the ballot sponsored by Missouri legislators: 3
Proposed legislation includes unnecessary provisions to confuse or obfuscate what the bills are really doing. The process already requires signees and voters to be citizens and registered voters in Missouri.
Some of the bills contain language about requirements and qualifications related to citizenship and status as a registered voter, as examples. As noted above, people in the process already must be citizens and registered voters. The end result is that people read something being “added” and assume it must mean that it’s not already there (or broken in some way). This plants seeds of doubt and confusion for people unfamiliar with what our constitution already requires. This misleading is intentional and elicits an emotional fear-based reaction (What do you mean non-citizens and people from other states have been changing our constitution?!? We have to fix that!) which hides the true impact of the legislation – limiting our power to address our needs and grievances directly through citizen-led initiative petitions. Don’t let them.
- Missouri voters don’t want to see any changes to the initiative petition process.
- It is already sufficiently difficult to gather over one-hundred-seventy-thousand signatures to get an initiative petition on the ballot– we do not want that number raised.
- Do not raise the threshold for the number of votes required to approve an initiative petition for constitutional amendments or statutes. Doing so will ensure the process is nullified, where nothing can pass.