Voters will decide on legislative proposals adding restrictions to ballot initiative processes in Arizona, Arkansas, and South Dakota in 2022

Voters in at least three states will decide legislative proposals to change citizen-initiated ballot measure processes this year. Legislatures in Arizona, Arkansas, and South Dakota have passed constitutional amendments on ballot initiatives, and additional constitutional changes are being considered in Arizona and Missouri.

In 2020, voters decided legislative referrals on ballot initiatives in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota, with the proposed changes rejected in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota, and approved in Montana.

The first vote on an initiative-related constitutional amendment will be on June 7, 2022, in South Dakota. Amendment C would require a three-fifths (60%) vote at an election to approve ballot measures designed to increase taxes or fees or require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years following enactment. The state Legislature passed the constitutional amendment in March 2021. Senate and House Democrats opposed the proposal. Republicans were divided 69 to 24.

Supermajority requirement: A vote requirement above a simple majority is considered a supermajority requirement. Currently, Colorado, Florida, and New Hampshire have supermajority requirements for constitutional amendments. Illinois requires a 60% vote for constitutional amendments or a simple majority of every ballot cast. Seven other states have laws on the minimum percentage of ballots cast in an election and ballot measure approval. In addition, Washington state requires a 60% vote on gambling-related referendums, Utah requires a two-thirds vote on initiatives concerning the taking of wildlife, and Florida requires a two-thirds vote on amendments that enact new taxes or fees.

In Arizona, voters will decide constitutional amendments at the general election in November. Republicans in the legislature backed two proposals that would make changes to the ballot initiative process. Legislative Democrats opposed both.

One would allow legislators to amend or repeal voter-approved ballot initiatives if any portion has been declared unconstitutional or invalid by the Arizona Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court. Initiatives sometimes include severance provisions, so that if one provision is struck as unconstitutional, other provisions can remain binding. Under the proposal, an initiative could be repealed regardless of severance if any provision is struck down. Currently, the Legislature cannot amend or repeal voter-approved ballot initiatives due to Proposition 105 (1998), also known as the Voter Protection Act, with an exception for changes that further a measure’s purpose and receive a three-fourths vote in each legislative chamber. 

The other amendment in Arizona would add a provision to the state constitution that requires citizen-initiated ballot measures to embrace a single subject. The ballot measure would also require the initiative’s subject to be expressed in the ballot title, or else the missing subject would be considered void. Based on a 2017 state Supreme Court ruling, the state constitution’s existing single-subject rule applies to legislative bills but not citizen-initiated measures.

Single-subject rule: Laws that require legislation, such as ballot initiatives, to address a single subject are called single-subject rules. Of the 24 states that allow for initiated constitutional amendments or statutes, 16 of them require initiatives to conform to a single subject.

A third constitutional amendment is also being considered in Arizona. The Arizona House voted 31 to 28 on Feb. 22, 2022, for an amendment to require a three-fifths (60%) vote for voters to approve citizen-initiated measures and constitutional amendments. House Republicans and House Democrats divided on the proposal, with the former supporting and latter opposing the change.

Similar to the proposal in Arizona, the Arkansas State Legislature passed a constitutional amendment requiring a three-fifths (60%) vote for voters to approve citizen-initiated measures and constitutional amendments. Voters will decide the issue on Nov. 8. In the Arkansas House, 72 Republicans and 2 Democrats approved the amendment, and 1 Republican and 17 Democrats opposed it. In the Senate, the vote was divided along party lines, with Republicans voting for and Democrats voting against.

The Missouri House of Representatives approved a constitutional amendment that would increase the number of required signatures for initiated constitutional amendments from 8% of voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to 10% of voters in all eight of the congressional districts. The proposal would also require a two-thirds (66.67%) vote of voters to approve a ballot measure. Democrats, along with seven Republicans, opposed the amendment, while 98 Republicans voted to refer the changes to voters. The Senate needs to pass the amendment by a simple majority to put the amendment on the ballot.

Distribution requirement: A requirement that petitions must be signed by voters from different political subdivisions in order for a ballot measure to qualify for the ballot is called a distribution requirement. Of the 26 states that provide for initiatives or referendums, 16 of them have distribution requirements.

The three measures that Arizona, Arkansas, and South Dakota legislatures put on the 2022 ballot were among 231 legislative proposals related to state and local ballot measures and recall processes that Ballotpedia tracked in 2021. Thirty-six proposals were approved, including bills that have already been signed into law. In 2021, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah legislatures passed restrictions on the initiative processes in their states.

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