Missouri voters could get a say this fall on a bevy of big issues. Should the state’s income tax be replaced with a higher sales tax? Should the tobacco tax be hiked? Should the minimum wage be raised? Should payday loan rates be limited? Should St. Louis gain control over its police force? Supporters have been gathering petition signatures in hopes of qualifying each item for the November ballot. But with the deadline to submit those signatures just one month away, it is not certain whether any of those hundreds of thousands of signatures even will matter. That’s because all the prospective ballot initiatives remain tied up in court, with the potential of getting tossed out. Regardless of who wins or loses come November, one of the most significant aspects of Missouri’s 2012 election season might be the sheer proliferation of potential ballot initiatives and an accompanying rise in litigation.
Missouri is one of 24 states that allow residents to initiate proposed changes to state statutes or the constitution, typically by collecting enough petition signatures to qualify the issue for a statewide vote. The first step in the process is to submit a proposed initiative to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections. A total of 143 initiatives have been turned in for the 2012 election — an amount nine times greater than the mere 16 initiatives submitted in 2004.
That increase is not because of an abundance of new ideas for laws. Rather, the growth reflects a new trend in which supporters are submitting multiple versions of their potential ballot initiatives — sometimes changing only a few words in the hopes of getting a favorable ballot summary from the secretary of state’s office and one that could withstand possible legal challenges.