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Many states moving to toughen the rules for ballot initiatives

A tide of ballot initiatives got endorsed last fall, as the nation turned toward direct democracy for changing public policy as never before.

Two-dozen states permit citizens to petition to get measures on the ballot that would amend state law or the state constitution. And in half of those states last November, voters approved a total of 24 different "democracy reform" ballot measures changing the rules of campaign finance, government ethics, ballot access, redistricting or voting rights. Many won with broad bipartisan majorities.

This most direct form of democracy is now under attack by lawmakers in an array of states, who are seeking to make it harder to repeat what happened in 2018.

"In 2019, we have already seen over 100 proposals introduced that would change the ballot measure process; this is more than the previous two years combined," Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, and Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, wrote in a USA Today op-ed published Tuesday.

They pointed to efforts in Florida, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio and Missouri, for example, that would make it harder to collect signatures to get a measure on the ballot.

They also noted some states are attempting to undo ballot measures that have already passed.

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In Missouri, for example, GOP Gov. Mike Parson told The Associated Press he supports a legislative effort to repeal the "Clean Missouri Act," a measure approved in November that limits lobbying gifts to lawmakers, expands open records law and creates a new nonpartisan redistricting commission. (Parson also said he thought "the bar should be a little higher" to get a voter initiative on the ballot.) In Florida, the Republican state legislature is advancing legislation that would limit the reach of a voter-approved proposal to restore voting rights to felons.

"Attempting to repeal an initiative that has already been approved by voters smacks of arrogance and is an affront to the democratic process and the countless hours spent by volunteers working to better their community," Flynn and Fields wrote.

Only Arkansas and Utah have so far enacted laws this year to change ballot measure processes, the authors note, but similar legislation is pending in dozens of states.

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