Republican Legislatures Aim to Restrict Citizen-Led Ballot Measures: A Battle for Direct Democracy

By FOCUS, a Leonine Business


Republican lawmakers are joining forces to reshape direct democracy by imposing more stringent requirements for placing citizen initiatives on the ballot. In response to recent victories for abortion rights in ballot measures across six states, Republicans are redoubling their efforts to make amending state constitutions more challenging.

Over 80 Ohio Republicans, including Secretary of State Frank LaRose, are supporting SJR 2, a proposal that aims to raise the threshold for passing amendments to the state constitution to 60 percent. This measure narrowly passed the House Constitutional Amendments Committee with a 7-6 vote on May 2. Concurrently, they support SB 92, which seeks to resurrect an August special election to implement this change. Republican Governor Mike DeWine has indicated that he would sign the legislation to reinstate the August election, an unexpected move given that he approved legislation to eliminate August elections just five months earlier, as reported by To secure a place on the August ballot, the House must pass the measure by May 10.

SJR 2 has encountered considerable bipartisan opposition, despite endorsements from high-ranking Republicans. Over 240 diverse Ohio groups, four bipartisan former governors, five former attorneys general and the association of Ohio election officials are among those standing against the August election initiative, according to the Ohio Capital Journal. Critics of the resolution argue that its supporters, which notably include Ohio Right to Life, the Center for Christian Virtue, gun-ownership lobbyists and the Ohio Restaurant Association, aim to undermine a proposed amendment on abortion rights scheduled for November.

The accelerated advancement of SJR 2 by Ohio Republicans is part of a wider trend in response to the unexpected resistance against anti-abortion laws in the past year, particularly in traditionally conservative states. The proposal to raise the approval threshold for Ohio ballot measures to 60 percent appears strategic, considering recent abortion rights votes in Michigan, Kentucky and Kansas ranged between 52 percent and 59 percent.

Republican-led legislatures in other states are also working to impede citizen-led measures. North Dakota’s legislature approved a bill increasing the signature requirement for proposed constitutional amendments and mandating approval in both primary and general elections. In Arkansas, after voters rejected a legislative proposal for a constitutional amendment to tighten the requirements for placing a measure on the ballot, the legislature enacted new requirements as state law. The Missouri legislature is fast-tracking a constitutional amendment for the November 2023 ballot to raise the approval threshold for proposed constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 60 percent.

As the end of the legislative session approaches, FOCUS will continue to closely monitor the developments related to these restrictions and the potential impacts on the democratic process.