CategoryBallot measures

Could the 2018 elections impact constitutional amendments and legislatively-referred ballot measures in 2019?

Legislatures can refer measures, including constitutional amendments, state statutes, and bond issues, to the ballot for voter consideration. Amendments do not require a governor’s signature, but referred statutes and bond issues do, with exceptions in some states. Changes in the membership of state legislatures and governor’s offices, as a result of elections on November 6, 2018, could have an effect on how many and what measures are referred to the ballot by state legislatures in 2019. There are three states, in particular, that often feature legislative referrals on their odd-numbered year ballots and had partisan shifts in 2018 that could have an effect on the referral process.
 
Colorado: Democrats won the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in Colorado, making the state one of six to flip from a divided government to trifecta control in 2018. The change in partisan control wasn’t large enough to give Democrats the power to refer constitutional amendments without the support of some Republicans since constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of each legislative chamber. The change in partisan control could, however, affect proposals for revenue increases as set forth in Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). TABOR, passed as a ballot initiative in 1992, requires a simple majority vote in the state legislature and voter approval of tax increases that generate revenue in excess of a formula based on inflation and population growth. With Democrats in control of both chambers in 2019, measures to override the cap on revenue will be easier to refer to the ballot without the support of Republicans.
 
Maine: In 2019, Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, as well as the governor’s office, making Maine a Democratic trifecta. Prior to 2019, Maine was a divided government. As Democrats have trifecta control in 2019, no legislative Republicans are needed to put statutes or bond issues before voters. Amendments to the Maine Constitution, however, still require support from some Republicans as Democrats do not control two-thirds of the seats in either legislative chamber.
 
Texas: Republicans kept trifecta control of Texas. However, Republicans lost seats in both chambers of the Texas State Legislature. Changes in the state Senate could have an effect on the prospects of constitutional amendments making the ballot since referral of a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the legislature. Republicans held 21 seats in the state Senate in 2018, which was enough to pass an amendment without support from Democrats. In 2019, Republicans hold 19 seats, meaning at least two Democrats are needed to pass a constitutional amendment in the state Senate.


Michigan legislature passes distribution requirement for initiatives

The Michigan State Legislature approved and Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed Michigan House Bill 6595 on December 28, 2018. HB 6595 created a distribution requirement for initiative signature petitions in Michigan limiting the number of signatures collected in any one congressional district to 15 percent of the total required. Michigan has 14 congressional districts. The requirement applies to both initiated constitutional amendments, initiated state statutes, and veto referendums. This effectively requires valid signatures from a minimum of seven different congressional districts for a successful initiative petition.
 
The bill also required the disclosure on petitions of whether a petitioner is paid or volunteer; mandated a petitioner affidavit; and made other changes regarding petitioners, valid signatures, and the timeline for certification.
 
The bill was passed in the state House on December 12, 2018. It was amended and approved by the state Senate on December 21, 2018, in a vote of 26-to-12. In the Senate, 26 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and all 11 Democrats along with one Republican, Tory Rocca, voted against the bill. The House concurred with the state Senate’s amended version on December 21, 2018, in a vote of 57-to-47. Among Republicans in the House, the bill was approved 56-to-5. Among Democrats, the bill was rejected 42-to-1.
 
Background context
 
Of the 26 states with some form of ballot initiative or veto referendum petition process at the statewide level, 16 other states besides Michigan have a distribution requirement. Of those 16 states, seven states base the distribution requirement on the state’s counties (Arkansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wyoming). In five states, it is calculated based on state legislative districts (Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah). In the other four states with a distribution requirement, it is based on U.S. congressional districts (Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, and Nevada). Washington, D.C., also has a distribution requirement based on city wards.
 
Most recently, Colorado voters approved a distribution requirement specifically for initiated constitutional amendments in 2016. It was put on their ballot through a successful initiative petition.
 
Legislators in Maine, Oklahoma, and South Dakota considered distribution requirements for citizen initiatives in 2018, but none of the proposals were enacted.