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GOP Using Ballot Initiatives to Suppress Voting Rights

GOP Using Ballot Initiatives to Suppress Voting Rights

Republicans seeking to change state voting laws in the face of opposition from Democratic governors or unwilling state legislatures are focusing on enacting fresh restrictions via ballot initiatives. Voting rights advocates are watching the sudden ubiquity of restrictive voting laws advance in states where the GOP enjoys total control, and say they fear those efforts will prove successful and spread to other states where such initiatives are legally possible.

In Michigan and Pennsylvania, key battlegrounds that President Joe Biden flipped back blue in 2020, as well as in Massachusetts, Republicans are at the beginning stages of a lengthy process to put proposed limits directly to the voters. Joanna Lydgate, CEO of the States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan voting rights group, told NBC News. “This is about making it harder for Americans to vote.”

[Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images]
Republicans control the Legislature but not the Governor’s mansion in Michigan, where the state GOP chair and the Republican leader of the Michigan Senate have both indicated a ballot initiative is their ultimate path forward on voting restrictions in order to avoid Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto. While Michigan Republicans have publicly been tossing around the idea since March, their counterparts in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have only more recently followed suit.

In Massachusetts, a state with a GOP governor but where Democrats control the Legislature, state Republican leaders have announced a push to get a voter ID initiative added to the 2022 general election ballot, with local media reporting that the state party has already begun raising money and enlisting volunteers for a signature drive. Pennsylvania Republicans seized on the idea of an amendment to the state Constitution, which was put before voters after Democratic Governor Tom Wolf rejected a package of voting restrictions sent to his desk by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Republicans in these states considering ballot initiatives have different paths to success. In Michigan, the state Constitution allows citizens to put an initiative on the ballot if they gather a certain number of signatures — at least 8 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial race. This year, that would be about 340,000 signatures. Before an initiative reaches the ballot, the state Legislature can pass the proposed law with a simple majority vote in each chamber, and such a measure cannot be vetoed. This process is rarely used, but earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed one such initiative that was mounted amid the pandemic by conservatives who opposed the governor’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions

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If enough signatures are collected, the proposal will go to the Legislature in January. Then, if lawmakers opt against passing it before early May, petitioners must collect another 13,000-plus signatures and complete a series of other filings with state and local officials before it can be placed on the general election ballot.

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