Where democracy is on the ballot in 2023
Meyers, president of DBM Content Solutions, is the former Executive Editor of The Fulcrum. Before launching The Fulcrum, David spent more than two decades at CQ Roll Call, a leading publisher of political news and information.
Starting in August, voters in a handful of states will have the opportunity to change how their governments operate by determining the outcome of ballot initiatives.
While most policy decisions are made by elected representatives, every state has a process through which voters may enact policy decisions or amend their state constitutions. Such ballot initiatives could change taxes, alter abortion rights or impact how elections are managed.
Oddly, not many ballot measures have been put forth and only a handful would change how democracy works. Here’s a rundown of those measures, which are being tracked by Ballotpedia and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The eight ballot measures voters will consider in Louisiana include one banning foreign money in elections and another that sets new parameters on legislative sessions.
On Oct. 14, voters will decide whether to pass a constitutional amendment outlawing the use of private and foreign money to pay for election administration. That proposal reads:
“Do you support an amendment to prohibit the use of funds, goods, or services from a foreign government or a nongovernmental source to conduct elections and election functions and duties unless the use is authorized by the secretary of state through policies established in accordance with law?”
In short, the measure would prevent the use of private or foreign money for election administration. This is the latest in a series of efforts across states to limit, or eliminate, private funding of official election activities after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $350 million for election assistance. That money was allocated through grants administered by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Center for Tech and Civic Life. Election offices in Louisiana were awarded $1.1 million in grants.
Since then, 24 states have passed new limits or regulations concerning the acceptance and use of private funds for election administration. Louisiana’s Republican-led Legislature passed a similar proposal in 2021 but Democratic Gov. John Bel Edward vetoed it.
That measure will be on the ballot during the state’s gubernatorial primary. When voters return to their polling locations on Nov. 18 for the general election, they will see an initiative that would change the window in which the governor may issue a veto and the Legislature may override that veto.
The initiative reads:
“Do you support an amendment to clarify that the timing of gubernatorial action on a bill and his return of a vetoed bill to the legislature is based upon the legislative session in which the bill passed and to authorize the legislature, if it is in session, to reconsider vetoed bills without convening a separate veto session?”
If approved the governor would have 10 days to act on a bill after it is delivered, unless that legislative session has been adjourned., in which case the governor has 20 days. (Currently, the governor has 10 days if the Legislature is in session even if it’s not the same session in which the bill was passed. Otherwise, he has 20 days.)
Under current law, the Legislature may convene for a veto session 40 days after final adjournment of the most recent session. If the proposal is approved, lawmakers would convene 40 days after final adjournment of the session in which a bill was vetoed.
The voters of Maine will have much to consider when they cast ballots on Nov. 7, including four initiatives that would change how elections are run.
The first proposal is a bipartisan initiative that would prevent foreign governments from spending money on U.S elections in Maine. The initiative would also prohibit contributions from companies that are partially owned by foreign governments and would require political advertisers to disclose funding from foreign governments. (Federal law already bars foreign individuals from contributing to political campaigns.)
The questions reads:
“Do you want to ban foreign governments and entities that they own, control, or influence from making campaign contributions or financing communications for or against candidates or ballot questions?”
According to Ballotpedia, Maine would be the eighth state to enact prohibitions on foreign influence on U.S. elections. The measure has the support of Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate as well as Protect Maine Elections, a nonprofit organization that has the backing of other influential anti-corruption groups.
A second ballot measure would grant voting rights to individuals who are under the care of a guardian because they have a mental illness. Such people would be able to vote in elections for governor and Congress.
The proposal reads:
“Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to remove a provision prohibiting a person under guardianship for reasons of mental illness from voting for Governor, Senators and Representatives, which the United States District Court for the District of Maine found violates the United States Constitution and federal law?”
In 2001, a federal judge ruled the state’s existing restrictions on voting are a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The third measure would amend the Maine Constitution to allow a non-citizen of Maine to circulate a citizen initiative or referendum petition.
The question reads:
“Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to remove a provision requiring a circulator of a citizen's initiative or people's veto petition to be a resident of Maine and a registered voter in Maine, requirements that have been ruled unconstitutional in federal court?”
The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 2022 that the current restriction is unconstitutional.
And the fourth relevant ballot measure would affect future initiatives. If passed, the constitutional amendment would change the judicial review period for initiative petitions to within 100 business days of the deadline for filing (currently 100 days). And it would also change the period for beginning judicial review to 30 days after a general election if the petition is filed within 30 days of the election.
The question reads:
“Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to change the time period for judicial review of the validity of written petitions from within 100 days from the date of filing to within 100 business days from the date of filing of a written petition in the office of the Secretary of State, with an exception for petitions filed within 30 calendar days before or after a general election?”
The secretary of state in Ohio has scheduled a special election for Aug. 8 for the purpose of voting on a ballot measure, known as Issue 1, that would make it more difficult to pass future changes to the state Constitution.
The measure, if approved, would make three changes:
- “Require that any proposed amendment to the Constitution of the State of Ohio receive the approval of at least 60 percent of eligible voters voting on the proposed amendment.
- Require that any initiative petition filed on or after January 1, 2024 with the Secretary of State proposing to amend the Constitution of the State of Ohio be signed by at least five percent of the electors of each county based on the total vote in the county for governor in the last preceding election.
- Specify that additional signatures may not be added to an initiative petition proposing to amend the Constitution of the State of Ohio that is filed with the Secretary of State on or after January 1, 2024 proposing to amend the Constitution of the State of Ohio.”
Under current Ohio law, ballot initiatives (such as this one) require a simple majority and earn a spot on the ballot if supporters can secure the required number of signatures in 44 of the state's 88 counties. Both of those thresholds will be far more difficult to achieve if this proposal passes. The third item eliminates the existing “cure” period in which additional signatures may be added to the petition if some are deemed invalid.
Many Republican officials in Ohio and their allies are pushing this initiative, arguing that the lower standards make it too easy to change the state’s foundational governing document. Democrats and others in opposition say such a change is unnecessary and takes power away from voters.
Opponents believe Republicans are “moving the goalposts” by placing this initiative in a special election in advance of the general election, when voters will determine the outcome of a ballot measure that would make reproductive rights part of the state Constitution. If the August measure passes, it will be far more difficult for supporters of the abortion-rights proposal to win their campaign in November.
Three political action committees supporting Issue 1 have raised $15.5 million and spent $11.1 million, according to data published by Ballotpedia. The PAC opposing Issue 1 has raised $16.7 million and spent $12.3 million.
When voters in the Lone Star State will head to polls Nov. 7, one of the issues they will decide is the retirement age for state judges and justices. Currently, judges and justices in Texas must retire when they reach 75 years of age. Under the proposed constitutional amendment, they would have to retire at 79.
The amendment reads:
“The constitutional amendment to increase the mandatory age of retirement for state justices and judges."
In addition to setting a maximum retirement age, the bill putting forth the ballot measure allows the Legislature to change the retirement age as long as it remains no lower than 75. Judges in Texas are elected, rather than appointed, and those on the three highest levels (Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Appeals) serve six-year terms. Lower-level judges serve four-year terms.
Thirty-one states and Washington, D.C., have set mandatory age limits on judges.
In addition, Texans will vote whether to eliminate the treasurer position in Galveston County. And the person leading the charge to scrap the constitutionally authorized job is Hugh Dugie, who won the election to be treasurer last year by campaigning to eliminate a position he calls a “waste.”
The measure reads:
"The constitutional amendment providing for the abolition of the office of county treasurer in Galveston County."
If the amendment passes, employees working for the treasurer would likely be assigned to other departments and continue to do the work required to maintain the county’s books.
According to the local ABC affiliate, Galveston would be the 10th county in Texas to eliminate the treasurer position and the first since 1987.