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Voter rights groups rally against initiative petition changes

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Dozens of voting rights advocates gathered at the statehouse this week as part of Protect the Ballot Initiative Rally and Advocacy Day. 

The event, organized by advocacy group Show Me Integrity, included representatives from various organizations demonstrating against proposed changes to Missouri’s initiative petition process. Bob Johnson, who served in the Capitol in both the House and Senate between the 1970s and early 2000s, said the process allowed people to use their voices in the lawmaking process. 

“You don’t see people-oriented, quality of life issues coming out of this body, and you haven’t for the last several years,” Johnson said. “Then, elections were over in November and people worked together. Now, we have threats on the initiative petition process. … When their views have been ignored in the legislative process, this allows citizens the initiative guaranteed in our constitution.”

Other presenters representing the League of Women Voters and Empower Missouri also spoke on the measures. Mo Del Villar, legislative associate for the ACLU of Missouri, said the process allowed Missourians to enact some of the most substantial changes seen over the last few years. 

“These bills would limit the power of the people to put initiatives on the ballot,” she said. “Missourians have exercised this right for over 100 years, and through the process, we have moved the state forward through the expansion of Medicaid, Clean Missouri, the legalization of medical marijuana. We need all the tools available to push back.”

The group highlighted pieces of legislation making their way through the General Assembly this session; HB 333 would impose a $500 filing fee for initiative petitions, with an additional $25 fee per page exceeding two pages. The bill also restricts petitions from altering federal, state, or executive regulations. The bill passed the lower chamber in March and is awaiting action on the Senate floor. 

If passed and approved by voters, HJR 20 would require a two-thirds majority vote to pass ballot measures, while also requiring measures to gather signatures from 10 percent of each congressional district before being placed on the ballot. Another provision would constrict the definition of a legal voter to those registered, living in Missouri, and having U.S. citizenship. The resolution is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee.

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