Missouri House passes deceptive version of bill to end majority rule voting

“Ballot candy” removed from original Senate version added to House measure

Assistant Editor

The Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives has approved a bill making it harder to amend the state constitution through the initiative petition process, ending majority rule in Missouri.

Currently, ballot referendums generated by citizen-led initiative petitions need only a simple majority to pass. HJR 86 would require the approval of a majority of voters and a majority of voters in each congressional district to pass an initiative petition. The bill now heads to the Senate.

“I think this bill sets the Senate up for implosion, and it’s not going to end well,” said Jake Hummel, Missouri AFL-CIO president. “I hope cooler heads in the Senate will prevail.”

Last month, the Senate approved a similar version of the bill, SJR 74, after stripping it of what Democrats called “ballot candy” – items meant to trick voters into approving a measure. Those provisions included:

  • Restricting voting on constitutional amendments to U.S. citizens only. Being a U.S. citizen is already a requirement to vote under federal law.
  • Prohibiting foreign funding of constitutional amendments. Federal law already prohibits foreign spending in U.S. elections.
  • A series of bans on future constitutional amendments. 

SJR 74’s sponsor, Rep. Mary Coleman (R-Arnold) made an amendment to remove the series of bans on future constitutional amendments, and nine Democrats and nine Republicans approved removing the other two unrelated provisions after hours of debate and negotiations.

After SJR 74 was approved in the Senate, members of the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee rejected it and held a hearing on a House version of the bill – HJR 86.

Coleman, who is running for Secretary of State, all but begged the House committee for the “ballot candy” to be included in the House version, and two of the provisions were – restricting voting on constitutional amendments to U.S. citizens only and prohibiting foreign funding of constitutional amendments. As both are already required under law, adding the amendments is only meant to trick voters into voting to end majority rule.

“I think it is very unbecoming of a Missouri senator to orchestrate such an effort,” Hummel said. “If the House version does pass, it will be up to voters to decide whether they want to end majority rule.”

The House measure also would require signatures from eight percent of the legal voters in each of the state’s eight congressional districts to place a Constitutional amendment proposed by initiative petition on the ballot. Currently, initiative petitions only require signatures from eight percent of voters in two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts.

Caitlyn Adams, executive director of Missouri Jobs with Justice Voter Action, called HJR 86 a clear and unprecedented move to end majority rule in Missouri.

“Simple majority rule is common sense and already the law of the land in Missouri,” Adams said. “Lobbyists and special interests are trying to shred our constitution to undermine the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ because they can’t control citizens the way they control politicians.”

Missourians from across the state and political spectrum reacted similarly to the House approving HJR 86. The measure was approved along party lines on a 106-49 vote with House Majority Leader Jon Patterson (R-Lee’s Summit) casting the only Republican “no” vote.

“Rather than do a better job for the people of Missouri, those same politicians have decided to be sore losers and try to take away our ability to change things for our communities,” said Mark Perrigo, a Republican voter and painter from Hallsville, Mo. “Missourians all over the state believe in one person, one vote.”

The impact of the proposed changes could be profound for many Missourians whose lives have been made better through the initiative petition process, which most recently has been used to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour and to expand Medicaid.

“Like most Missourians, I work hard for my family, but I don’t get paid enough and went without healthcare for many, many, many years,” said Bridget Hughes, a fast food worker and leader with Stand Up Kansas City and the Missouri Workers Center. “I voted to raise the minimum wage and expand Medicaid. Because of those initiatives, I was able to pay my bills and treat my cervical cancer.”

Republicans are moving with urgency to pass some kind of legislation to advance changes to the initiative petition because of a pro-abortion rights campaign collecting signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot later this year.

Any changes to the initiative petition process would have to be approved statewide by voters.

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