Initiative petitions could cause uptick in voters for November election

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Provided the six initiative petitions meet the signature requirements, Missourians will be seeing them on the November general election ballot.

Of the 371 initiative petitions filed for the 2018 election, 158 approved for circulation with only six turned in signatures. Limiting lobbyist gifts, raising the minimum wage, and four related to marijuana were among the petitions that submitted signatures.

The measure proposed by Raise up Missouri would increase the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour in 2023. The current minimum wage is $7.85 an hour. The increases would be made in 85 cent increments.

Clean Missouri’s proposal would restrict lobbyist gifts to lawmakers to $5, decrease the contribution amount to campaigns, extend the wait time for a politician to become a lobbyist, and change how district lines for the General Assembly are drawn.

Three of the proposals would legalize medical marijuana and one would legalize recreational and medical marijuana.

Four are constitutional amendments needing a minimum of roughly 152,000 signatures from registered voters in six of the eight congressional districts to get on the ballot. Two are statutory amendments needing just under 100,000 signatures.

States that have petition initiatives on ballots feature higher voter turnouts, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute. In presidential years that uptick in voter turnout is between 3 percent and 4.5 percent. In midterm years — such as the 2018 election — the increase ranges from 7 percent to 9 percent.

While the measures submitted for Missouri’s ballot vary in topics, they are likely to attract progressive voters. Measures on marijuana and minimum wage increases tend to be favored by Democrats and younger voters.

Colorado in 2012, when marijuana was on the ballot, saw 10 percent more millennial voters than the national average. However, that trend didn’t follow in all states with similar measures — Washington and Arizona’s youth turnout followed the national trend.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, 63 percent of Republican millennials and 77 percent of Democratic millennials support the legalization of marijuana. Democrat across generations tend to favor legalizing marijuana. Republicans across generations tend to be against legalization — though that is a changing trend.

Medical marijuana has gained steadily gained more support from Republicans, the House even passing a bill giving patients with debilitating illness access to it.

Several Republicans — but not all — have claimed that Clean Missouri is aimed at helping Democrats and decreasing the Republican majority based on the provision the would alter the way redistricting to done.

“Clean Missouri is a sham and designed to get Republicans out of the way,” House Floor Majority Leader Rob Vescovo stated on Twitter.

Clean Missouri backers tout the initiative as aiming to create a fairer system. Either way, it has the potential to encourage both sides to vote.

“The 2002 and 2006 Senate elections illustrate that a relatively small margin can make a huge difference,” said Republican consultant James Harris. “In 2002, Senator Jim Talent won the special election by a margin of 1.1 percent, just over 21,000 votes. In 2006, he lost by 2.3 percent, just over 48,000 votes. If you look at the issues on the ballot, there were three liberal-oriented issues in 2006 – a minimum wage increase, a tobacco tax increase, and stem cell research. It is not hard to imagine these making a difference.”

With some potential tight races in November, such as the U.S. Senate race, it is not inconceivable for some Republicans to want the initiatives moved to the August primary. Legislation was filed in the House to move the right-to-work referendum to August. 

“In the general election, Republicans would prefer to talk about core issues – lower taxes, smaller government, and supporting President Trump – than continually get asked questions about initiatives relating to marijuana legalization and other liberal issues,” said Harris.

Under the constitution, the governor has the power to change the ballot date of measures amending the constitution.

“All amendments proposed by the general assembly or by the initiative shall be submitted to the electors for their approval or rejection by official ballot title as may be provided by law, on a separate ballot without party designation, at the next general election, or at a special election called by the governor prior thereto, at which he may submit any of the amendments,” states Article XII, Section 2(b) of the Missouri constitutional.

The Secretary of State’s Office “would not weigh in on” if that power also would apply to statutory amendments.

The Article II, Section 52(b), dealing with veto power—elections—effective date of initiatives, states, “All elections on measures referred to the people shall be had at the general state elections, except when the general assembly shall order a special election.”

The Office of the SOS has been in communication with the Governor’s office for several months with regard to the question if the measures would be moved to August.

On Monday, Gov. Eric Greitens told the SOS office that he “will not move any of the ballot measures.”

If Greitens has chosen to move the measures to August, the signatures would first need to be verified — a process that can take months. In that scenario, the SOS Office “would have done what was necessary to place the measure on the August ballot.”

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Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at alisha@themissouritimes.com.