Missouri House Republicans last week moved to prevent judges from keeping them honest in the wording they use on ballot measures. This came on the same day those lawmakers demonstrated why that oversight is needed, passing a measure that would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution — a measure whose wording was clearly designed to downplay that impact.
The issue stems from the voters’ overwhelming approval in 2018 of the Clean Missouri ballot initiative, which created a nonpartisan method for redrawing Missouri legislative districts. Ruling Republicans, who count on political gerrymandering to hold onto power, came back last year with another ballot measure that successfully repealed those redistricting reforms.
But the ballot language they sought to put before the voters downplayed that controversial repeal provision, leading instead with a more popular part of the measure that bans lobbying gifts. Two courts saw through the ruse and rewrote the language to more accurately reflect what the referendum would do.
Voters nonetheless narrowly passed that referendum, but Republicans aren’t taking any chances going forward. The House on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 850, which would prevent judges in the future from correcting deceptive ballot language.
State law says ballot language must be an “impartial statement of the purposes of the proposed measure,” which is what the courts were enforcing. Rep. John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon, sponsor of the legislation to strip judges of that authority, says that backstop is unnecessary because “we do a pretty good job of passing legislation.”
Oh, really? Does that include the deceptive ballot language on a different bill that the same House preliminarily approved earlier on the same day?
That bill would require that passage of ballot measures amending the state constitution must win approval from two-thirds of the state’s voters, rather than a simple majority. It’s not mysterious why Republicans would want to make it harder for voters to overrule legislators, which they’ve done in recent years on issues like medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion and ethics reform.
And how would the bill’s ballot language explain to voters that they would be voting to limit their own power in future referendums? By leading with a statement saying only U.S. citizens can vote — which is already the law and is irrelevant to the main change the measure would impose. In other words, these legislators are once again trying to distract voters from the true nature of the ballot measure they’d be approving. This on the very day they separately moved to prevent courts from correcting such deceptions.
To review: The Legislature’s Republican majority wants to make it harder for voters to challenge their draconian policies via referendum, while making it easier for lawmakers themselves to deceive those voters about what’s on ballot measures. This is what it looks like when an entire political party decides it doesn’t trust the voters anymore. The voters should return the sentiment.