Press Releases

New MAGA Playbook: Attempts to Limit Ballot Initiatives Will Continue After Defeat of Issue 1

AUGUST 10, 2023

Sarah Harris, [email protected] 

On Tuesday, Ohio voters defeated Issue 1, a proposed constitutional amendment designed to undermine direct democracy. Issue 1 would have raised the threshold to pass citizen-led ballot initiatives, including this November’s ballot issue protecting reproductive freedom, to 60%, making it harder for Ohioans to have a say in policies that affect their lives. 

But, Ohio’s ballot initiative fight was not the first attempt by MAGA Republicans to eviscerate this form of direct democracy – and it will not be the last. This year, 76 state bills were introduced to make the initiative process harder to use.

These bills come on the heels of several states passing reproductive justice ballot initiatives in 2022. Of the six reproductive rights ballot measures passed since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, four — in Kentucky, Montana, Kansas, and Michigan— passed with between 52 and 59 percent of the vote. These measures are one of the few ways voters in MAGA-controlled states can bypass gerrymandered state legislatures and restore their rights. In fact, progressives have increasingly turned to ballot initiatives to codify reproductive freedom or expand voting rights as they’ve come under fire by the Supreme Court and conservative legislatures. 

Now, MAGA Republicans are trying to take away direct democracy. Since 2017, at least 10 states have considered increasing the threshold to pass ballot initiatives. And at least 16 have proposed increasing the number of signatures needed to qualify a ballot initiative or, like Issue 1, adding new requirements that those signatures come from specific jurisdictions, like counties or congressional districts, including rural areas dominated by MAGA Republican voters, according to FiveThirtyEight.

A major force behind the recent attacks on direct democracy in states like Ohio, Missouri, South Dakota and Arkansas is the Foundation for Government Accountability, a Florida-based group funded by Republican mega-donor Richard Uihlein, according to the Guardian. Uihlein donated $4 million to the Issue 1 campaign in Ohio. Like in Ohio, voters in Arkansas and South Dakota rejected measures to raise the threshold for ballot initiatives. In Missouri, the legislature rejected the measure before it made it to voters.

Stand Up America and its partners, including the Fairness Project and the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, are fighting against these anti-democratic efforts. In Ohio, Stand Up America members sent over 1.4 million peer-to-peer texts, joined hundreds of volunteer shifts, and sent over 24,000 handwritten letters to educate Ohio voters about what was at stake in the special election and get out the vote to oppose Issue 1. 

As MAGA Republicans continue to attack ballot initiatives to undermine voters’ power and direct democracy, Stand Up America and its nearly 2 million members will continue fighting for a democracy that is for the people, by the people – not one that aims to silence them.