As the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, told us last week, his organization plans to back a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot in Missouri called Your Vote Counts. And Pacelle wasn’t kidding around. Campaign finance records show that the Humane Society has already channeled $64,957 in resources toward the Your Vote Counts campaign — making it the effort’s biggest donor to date.
Despite the Legislature’s failure to pass a bill this year to increase the percentage of votes needed to pass a voter initiated constitutional amendment, grassroots advocates recently voiced their opposition to the move they see as part of a trend by legislators to limit the power of the people.
An unlikely alliance of some of the state’s leading liberal and conservative voices are sounding the alarm that Colorado’s ballot initiative process is facing an unprecedented assault from established interests and lawmakers.
Democrats in the state Senate approved two bills Monday designed to shorten the reins on professional signature-gatherers who have come to dominate California’s initiative process. Under one bill, individuals would have to wear large-print badges specifying whether they are volunteers or are being paid to collect voter signatures.
A group suing over Nebraska laws governing the petition process said Thursday that it is forming a task force to gather residents’ input on the rules and make recommendations to the Legislature. Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge Foundation Inc., said the state’s petition process has been stifled in the wake of changes made in 2007 and 2008. No one has attempted to put an initiative on the state ballot since those laws went into effect, he said.
A federal judge today heard opening arguments in a non-jury trial over Nebraska’s residency rule for petition circulators. The American Civil Liberties Union argues the law makes it difficult if not impossible for independent candidates and large-scale grassroots initiatives to get on the ballot. Under Nebraska law, petition circulators must live in the state whether they are volunteers or paid professionals. The ACLU is suing Nebraska Secretary John Gale.
A federal trial is scheduled to begin Thursday in a constitutional challenge to Nebraska laws governing petition signature requirements for ballot initiatives and independent candidates. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska said in the 2009 lawsuit that changes made in 2007 and 2008 to state law unfairly burdens independent candidates and residents trying to get initiatives on the ballot, thus violating protected political speech. It seeks to have those changes thrown out.
As with everyone, politicians and government officials like to get their way, and most of them don’t appreciate it when citizens take charge with popular initiative, referendum and recall petition campaigns. Michigan’s constitution recognizes the right of the people to exercise these forms of direct democracy, but that doesn’t prevent elected and appointed officials here from trying to restrict this right.
One of the checks MisÂsouri votÂers have on the power of state politiÂcians is in jeopÂardy: Sen. Jolie JusÂtus (D–Kansas City) is takÂing aim at the initiative-petition process, which allows MisÂsouriÂans to band together to put laws and conÂstiÂtuÂtional amendÂments on the statewide ballot. This is incredÂiÂbly imporÂtant, because some polÂicy changes that would greatly benÂeÂfit MisÂsouri can be so politÂiÂcally unviÂable that politiÂcians won’t proÂpose them. PetiÂtions cirÂcuÂlatÂing this year would limit emiÂnent domain and impose term limÂits on top state officials.
Last weekend on “The Score” radio show, my colleague Scott Lee interviewed Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge, a group dedicated to “…protecting and expanding the initiative and referendum process.” Paul made an impassioned case for initiative and referendum, but also noted that Virginia, the cradle on American political thought, lacks the process almost entirely.Â How could this possibly be? There’s no easy place to look for an answer.Â Virginia does hold regular statewide referendums on constitutional amendments, bond debt and the like. But all those matters come from the General Assembly and even then only after a very long and laborious process.