GOP plan would make amending Missouri constitution harder for liberals but not conservatives

Missouri Republican-run state Senate voted Thursday evening to advance a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it more difficult for progressives—but not conservatives—to change the state’s governing document.

If the state House, where Republicans also dominate, assents to the Senate’s plan, the amendment would appear before voters on the Aug. 6 primary ballot. The legislature’s moves come at a time when reproductive rights advocates are trying to place an amendment on the ballot this year that would end Missouri’s near-total abortion ban.

Under the Senate’s proposal, constitutional amendments would need to earn both a majority of the vote statewide and win in a majority of the state’s eight congressional districts. The state’s current rules, however, require only a statewide majority for the GOP’s amendment to become law.

The Show Me State favored Donald Trump 57-41 in 2020, so any amendments backed by progressives already need to win crossover support from conservative voters. But thanks in large part to Republican gerrymandering, this new proposal would make that task even more difficult.

Trump took more than two-thirds of the vote in four of Missouri’s congressional districts, and he won five of them with at least 62%. Any liberal ballot measures would therefore need to win by a landslide margin statewide to pass in districts that are much more conservative than the state as a whole. At the same time, however, a conservative amendment could still pass in a majority of districts while winning just a simple majority statewide.

Senate Democrats did at least temporarily prevent the GOP from stuffing their amendment with “ballot candy,” which the Kansas City Star defines as “inserting unrelated but popular ideas into a measure to encourage people to vote in favor of it.” (Republicans successfully used this tactic in 2020 to entice voters to repeal a redistricting reform they’d passed two years earlier.)

Most notably, the GOP’s original proposal would have included a provision barring non-citizens from voting, something that has been illegal in Missouri since 1924. It also included a ban on foreign interference in referendums, which is also already against the law.

Democrats hold just 10 seats in the 34-member Senate, but they were able to engage in a multi-day filibuster that stalled passage of the bill. Nine Republicans joined every Democrat in voting to remove the GOP’s artificial sweeteners on Tuesday, something the measure’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, informed the Missouri Independent was necessary to move forward

Still, Coleman, an ardent abortion rights opponent who is running for the U.S. House this year, told the Star she’s optimistic that her colleagues in the lower chamber will add those inducements back in. And Republicans have good reason to think they’ll need “ballot candy” to persuade Missourians to weaken their own power: Last year, Ohio Republicans failed badly in their attempt to convince their state’s voters to approve a comparable amendment.

The Missouri House has not yet taken up this plan, but it’s doing its own work to make it tougher for citizens to utilize the ballot initiative process. On Tuesday, Republicans in the lower chamber passed legislation that, among other things, would give the secretary of state and attorney general new powers to review proposed initiatives.

An ACLU official argued in January that this plan would strengthen those two offices, which are both held by Republicans, by allowing their occupants to kill measures without ever giving their supporters a chance to qualify them for the ballot. “What this means is it would install partisan politicians as essential gatekeepers to the initiative process,” said John Schmidt.

The legislation would also forbid paying signature collectors based on the number of signatures they gather. That would force organizers to pay less efficient—and therefore more costly—hourly rates. The Senate has yet to vote on the matter.

Missouri Republicans have tried to sabotage ballot initiatives for years after progressives used them to legalize marijuana, expand Medicaid, make legislative redistricting fairer, adopt new ethics rules, raise the minimum wage, and veto the GOP’s “Right to Work” law.

Most recently, Republicans sought to put an amendment on the ballot last year that would have required a 57% supermajority to pass any future amendments, in an effort to derail the expected abortion rights measure. That move unexpectedly failed before the legislative session ended, however, thanks to GOP infighting.

These latest GOP maneuvers come as abortion-rights supporters have begun collecting signatures to place an amendment before voters that would allow the procedure to take place about 24 weeks into pregnancy. If Missourians for Constitutional Freedom gathers the requisite number of signatures ahead of the state’s May 5 deadline, it will then be up to Republican Gov. Mike Parson to decide whether their proposal will go before voters on Aug. 6 or during the regular November general election.

Any amendments placed on the summertime ballot would take only a majority of the vote to pass, so conservatives might pressure Parson to pick the later date, after their own amendment goes before voters. Republicans in competitive races, however, might not want to share a general election ballot with an abortion-rights initiative that could prove popular.

Campaign Action SOURCE

Leave a Comment