Ohio: Federal lawsuit seeks to stop elections boards from blocking ballot initiatives | The Columbus Dispatch

Groups in Columbus and half a dozen other Ohio communities have filed suit in federal court after their efforts to place initiatives on local ballots were blocked by elections boards. Individuals representing ballot efforts in Youngstown and Toledo and Athens, Medina, Meigs and Portage counties joined the filing Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division in Youngstown. They’re hoping the federal court will do what state courts have not to date — rule that Ohio’s process for reviewing and potentially barring citizen-led initiatives from ballots is unconstitutional. “Just because it’s controversial or the government itself doesn’t particularly like the idea, that doesn’t mean the people shouldn’t have a right to vote on it,” said Tish O’Dell, Ohio community organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is assisting the local groups with the legal challenge.

National: State GOP Lawmakers Eye Changes to Ballot Measures – Passed and Future | Governing

Ballot measures have become a popular way to enact new policies — from minimum wage hikes and legalized marijuana to abortion restrictions and ethics reforms. But voter-approved measures are meeting more pushback. Republican legislators in several states are fighting ballot measures on two fronts: As was the case following the 2016 election, they are trying to overturn provisions of some laws that voters just passed in November. They are also seeking legislative changes that would make it harder for ballot measures to pass in the future. “Lawmakers are undermining the will of their constituents by unraveling these voter-approved changes and attacking the ballot measure process,” says Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which promotes progressive ballot measures.

Florida: State Supreme Court Asked To Block Amendments From Ballot That Allegedly Violate First Amendment | WLRN

Arguing that the measures would violate First Amendment rights, an attorney for two plaintiffs urged the Florida Supreme Court  to uphold a lower-court ruling that would block three proposed constitutional amendments from going before voters in November.  Attorney Joseph Little filed a 50-page brief last Friday after Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office last week requested that the Supreme Court allow the ballot measures to move forward. The Supreme Court has not said whether it will hold oral arguments in the case, which stems from ballot proposals approved this year by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Michigan: Forged signatures raise concerns about ballot petition efforts | Detroit Free Press

It’s been a great summer for petition campaigns — most of them, that is. After hundreds of thousands of Michiganders signed petitions, ballots this fall will list three momentous questions — whether to legalize marijuana; whether to end gerrymandering with a nonpartisan method of carving political districts; and whether to expand voting rights in several ways that include allowing straight-party voting, again, as well as allowing “no-reason” absentee voting. To get on the November ballot, these big statewide campaigns had to leap numerous legal hurdles and turn in truckloads of signed petitions that were flyspecked by lawyers or trained volunteers. But some petition efforts didn’t go as well. In Oakland and Macomb counties, two local campaigns — one in Troy, another in Warren — used paid circulators to gather signatures and both ended with cries of “forgery!” That’s giving fuel to the fire of critics who say Michigan should tighten regulations on petition campaigns.

National: Redistricting reformers turn to ballot initiatives | The Hill

Nonpartisan redistricting proponents are turning to midterm election referendums in key states where legislative leaders have signaled no desire to give up their authority on drawing political boundaries. Voters in four states — Michigan, Missouri, Colorado and Utah — will weigh in on ballot measures this November that would radically reshape the way congressional or legislative district lines are drawn. In those states, legislative leaders have the power to draw state legislative and congressional district lines, authority critics say they have used to safeguard incumbents. The initiatives, placed on the ballot by good-government groups and, in some states, by Democratic activists, would vest the power to draw district boundaries in the hands of independent commissions.

National: On the Ballot in Some States Ahead of 2020: The Right to Vote | Wall Street Journal

Voters will get the chance this fall to expand or limit access to the polls in a wave of ballot initiatives ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Seven states have ballot measures this year involving election rules, such as ID requirements and easier registration, the National Conference of State Legislatures said. Maine voters already approved a measure, and Michigan could join the fray if a campaign clears a signature hurdle. Together, that equals the number of similar ballot measures from 2014 and 2016 combined, according to NCSL. “This entire decade has been roiling with concerns on both sides—integrity and access—to voting rights,” said Wendy Underhill, director of elections and redistricting at NCSL.

California: State Supreme Court Squashes Bid To Split State Into Three | NPR

California will be staying in one piece, at least for now, after the state’s supreme court ruled that a proposal to divide California into three cannot be placed on the ballot in November. Tim Draper, a wealthy venture capitalist, has spent years arguing that the Golden State would be better off as several smaller states. He says California is too large to be governed effectively and that splitting up would result in “better decision making and real solutions closer to home.” This year, he got enough signatures to put it before voters — although experts said that even if the proposal passed, it would face a range of daunting legal and political hurdles. Then the Planning and Conservation League (PCL), a nonprofit environmental group in California, filed a lawsuit to block the measure from getting to a vote.

Utah: Lt. Governor asks Utah Supreme Court to keep Count My Vote off the November ballot | KSTU

Utah’s Lt. Governor is defending the law that allows voters to remove signatures from a citizen referendum petition. In a new court filing before the Utah Supreme Court, Lt. Governor Spencer Cox pushed back on Count My Vote’s request to strike down a portion of election law dealing with signature removal. Count My Vote, which would allow political candidates to gather signatures and skip the caucus-convention system that political parties prefer, failed to qualify for the November ballot after enough voters removed their signatures following an opposition campaign by a rival group called Keep My Voice.

Michigan: State Supreme Court to decide on redistricting ballot question | Michigan Radio

The Michigan Supreme Court is about to have a political hot mess dumped on its lap. The court will decide whether voters will vote on an overhaul of how Michigan draws legislative and congressional districts. The group Voters Not Politicians has submitted some 425,000 petition signatures to get the question about amending the state constitution before voters in November. Currently, in Michigan, redistricting is done by the state Legislature. It’s been controlled by Republicans for the last twenty years. The Voters Not Politicians campaign wants the job to go to an independent commission.

Utah: Election reform initiative won’t make Utah ballot | Associated Press

An initiative to reform Utah’s nominating system failed to make the ballot after opponents convinced nearly 3,000 people to withdraw their name from a petition in support of the measure, election officials said Tuesday. Initiatives on medical marijuana, redistricting and Medicaid expansion did make the ballot, officials announced, making them the first to be decided by Utah voters in 14 years. Tuesday’s result is a victory for defenders of the current political system, but will also heighten questions about the ability to block initiatives from reaching voters. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has spoken out against urging voters to withdraw names from petitions they’ve already signed and said last week the system ought to be rethought.

Utah: How fair is the citizen initiative signature rescission process? | Deseret News

It’s nail-biting time for supporters and opponents of the four initiative proposals that citizens are trying to place on the 2018 November ballot. Tuesday, May 15, is the deadline for initiative opponents to turn in documents rescinding signatures. After Tuesday, the lieutenant governor’s office will total the number of signatures verified, the number of signatures rescinded, and will determine which initiatives qualify for the ballot. That likely won’t end the controversies, however. If passed, the initiatives would institutionalize Count My Vote, fully expand Medicaid, create a commission to propose political district boundaries and allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes. The rescind efforts have sparked accusations of deception and even bullying. What is going on here? Supporters and opponents of the initiative efforts are accusing the other of unfair tactics, misleading messaging, false representations, intimidating behavior and other outrageous activities. So the initiative campaigns have devolved into … resembling every political contest for the last 10,000 years of human history.

Ohio: Voters pass redistricting reform initiative | The Hill

Ohio voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that will reform the state’s redistricting process, creating a mandate for bipartisanship in the decennial remapping process. With about half the votes counted a few hours after polls closed, about three quarters of Ohio voters backed the initiative, State Issue One. The ballot measure asked voters whether they wanted to amend the state constitution to require bipartisan support when drawing new congressional district lines. Any new maps would require three-fifths support in the state House and Senate, including support from at least half the members of the minority party. If Republicans and Democrats in the legislature cannot agree on a map, a seven-member bipartisan commission would be assigned to draw new maps. Those maps would have to be approved with at least two votes from the minority party. If the bipartisan commission fails, the legislature would be allowed to try to draw 10-year maps that earn support from one-third of the minority party or a four-year map with only majority support. 

Ohio: Ballot question aims to reform Ohio’s redistricting process | The Toledo Blade

A single statewide question greets voters on the May 8 ballot, asking them to amend the Ohio Constitution to create what backers claim will be a less partisan way to redraw congressional districts each decade. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have endorsed it. It has a broad swath of bipartisan support from government watchdog, business, labor, and agricultural organizations. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues the plan would still allow partisan gerrymandering, isn’t asking voters to reject it. Keary McCarthy, one of the leaders of the “yes” campaign on Issue 1, said a modest budget of less than $500,000 will focus on promoting the broad, bipartisan support. But he also knows that the multistep process involved could be relatively confusing to explain.

Ohio: To Get On Ohio Ballots, Redistricting Reform Needed ‘A Minor Miracle’ | WOSU

Voters on May 8 have a chance to change the way Ohio draws Congressional maps. Issue 1 would require more bipartisanship in a line-drawing process that currently has few rules. It’s not the first time a redistricting proposal has gone to the ballot. But Issue 1 has brought together Republicans, Democrats and several groups advocating for reform. It takes a majority of the legislature to pass a map, and that means the party in power has a lot of say over how it looks. For decades, there have been attempts to shake up this process. “Millions of dollars were spent on both sides, countless redistricting reformers were engaged in those efforts, and we came to naught,” said Catherine Turcer, the director of Common Cause Ohio, one of the groups supporting Issue 1.

Wisconsin: Voters by a wide margin keep Wisconsin’s 170-year-old state treasurer’s office | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It turns out Wisconsinites want to have a state treasurer, after all. By a strong margin, 61% to 39%, voters Tuesday beat back a constitutional amendment and kept Wisconsin’s 170-year-old treasurer’s office. “I’m flabbergasted that the results are as high as they are,” said former GOP Treasurer Jack Voight, who led a coalition to keep the office. “I thought it would be a much closer vote than this.” With little spending on either side of the referendum and no known polling, it wasn’t clear until Tuesday which side would prevail in the contest that culminated a years-long effort to abolish the office. Some voters may have been surprised just to find the question on their ballots. “No governor, no politician or political party should be above our state constitution,” Voight said.

Colorado: Federal judge blocks part of Colorado’s Amendment 71; secretary of state plans appeal | Denver7

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a key part of Colorado’s voter-approved Amendment 71, which made it more difficult for people seeking to get a measure on the statewide ballot for a vote. U.S. District Court of Colorado Judge William J. Martinez wrote in the order that parts of the “raise the bar” amendment, which was approved by 55 percent of Colorado voters in 2016, was unconstitutional. The portion deemed to be unconstitutional required people hoping to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot to get signatures from at least 2 percent of the total number of registered voters in each of the state’s 35 Senate districts.

Editorials: Why the Dutch plan to scrap advisory referendums is a step back for democracy | Matt Qvortrup/The Conversation

Dutch voters will go to the polls on March 21 for a referendum on the Security Act 2017, a law which grants the authorities extended surveillance rights. As in many other states, such legislation has raised concern in the Netherlands that the government is snooping on emails and other personal communication. Unlike most countries, however, Dutch voters can currently do something about it thanks to a 2015 law that means the government must hold an advisory referendum if 300,000 voters call for one. But the Dutch government now plans to overturn this right in the future. On February 22, a majority in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, voted to scrap the referendum law. It’s unlikely that the vote will be undone by the Senate when it comes to vote on the issue.

South Dakota: House passes election reform bill opponents call ‘onslaught’ against initiative process | Argus Leader

South Dakota lawmakers advanced a set of proposals Wednesday aimed at blocking out-of-state influence over the process voters use to bring policy questions to the ballot. On the House floor and in committee, legislators approved bills that would restrict funding to ballot measure committees from outside the state, and require circulators to give up more information on petition forms and on the ballot. The bill’s sponsors said the proposals could block foreign groups that would aim to test policy in South Dakota, while opponents said the measures went too far and could inhibit South Dakotans’ abilities to bring issues to the ballot.

South Dakota: Clashes over state ballot initiatives could spill into 2018 | Associated Press

Joyce Scott made hundreds of phone calls and knocked on countless doors, helping persuade South Dakota voters to approve a ballot measure last year tightening campaign contribution limits and creating a government ethics watchdog. Republican lawmakers quickly torched the new rules this year and instead are seeking changes that would make it far tougher for residents to bypass the statehouse at all. Scott and others angry about the swift repeal of the voter-backed anti-corruption initiative have turned to the 2018 ballot, hoping to enact a new constitutional amendment that even the Legislature can’t touch. “I was disgusted that we had to go through this again,” said Scott, a 75-year-old Democrat who collected signatures for the new campaign after seeing lawmakers dismantle the first ethics package. “We had already told them once what we wanted.”

Michigan: Signatures Submitted for Michigan Redistricting Initiative | Associated Press

A group opposed to political gerrymandering submitted more than 425,000 signatures Monday for a ballot drive that would empower an independent commission to draw Michigan’s congressional and legislative districts, which backers said would make the once-a-decade process less partisan. The Legislature now creates the maps, which are subject to a gubernatorial veto and a possible legal challenge. Katie Fahey, president and treasurer of the Voters Not Politicians ballot committee, said the current system “could not get more partisan. We have people locking themselves behind closed doors to draw these lines for their own favor instead of listening to the people of Michigan and trying to create actual fair elections that hold them accountable to us as citizens.” If at least 315,654 signatures are deemed valid, the constitutional amendment would be added to the November 2018 statewide ballot barring a lawsuit. It faces opposition from Republicans, who oversaw redistricting in 2011 and 2001 and who control the Legislature and governorship.

Massachusetts: Presidential tax return ballot question clears key hurdle | Associated Press

A proposed Massachusetts ballot question that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns from the prior six years to secure a spot on the state primary ballot cleared a key hurdle Wednesday. Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey certified the question, saying it passes constitutional muster. That clears the question to go before voters next year, provided that supporters can collect the tens of thousands of signatures needed to get on the ballot. The proposal is a reaction to Republican President Donald Trump’s refusal to publicly release his tax returns during the 2016 election. It would impose the same requirements for candidates for vice president. 

Michigan: ‘Nonpartisan’ redistricting board has partisan ties | The Detroit News

A majority of leaders behind a “nonpartisan” plan to reform the Michigan redistricting process have supported partisan Democrats in the past, fueling criticism from a conservative group opposing the effort. Seven of 10 board members of the Voters Not Politicians petition committee have given at least a combined $5,649 to Democratic candidates and causes since 2005, according state and federal campaign finance records compiled by the Michigan Freedom Fund. None have given to Republicans or third-party candidates. The group’s “anti-gerrymandering” petition proposes amending the Michigan Constitution to create an independent citizen redistricting commission that would redraw legislative and congressional boundaries every 10 years.

Michigan: Complaint claims state elections bureau illegally assisted redistricting group | MLive

A Republican strategist has filed a complaint against Michigan’s Bureau of Elections alleging state officials acted improperly when advising the group pushing for an independent redistricting commission on the 2018 ballot. Robert LaBrant, who currently serves as counsel for the Lansing-based Sterling Corporation, submitted the complaint Thursday. He wrote the bureau’s review of the petition language submitted by the group Voters Not Politicians was a “misplaced, over-zealous attempt at being customer friendly even though the service the bureau provided VNP is illegal.” 

Oregon: Legality of Oregon Secretary of State Richardson’s election rule change questioned | The Register-Guard

A change in the rules for collecting initiative petition signatures in Oregon, proposed by Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, may be on shaky legal ground, according to a preliminary analysis by the Legislature’s lawyers. Richardson, a Republican, wants to let the backers of initiative petitions start gathering signatures before their ballot title — the neutral, summarized descriptor of what the measure would do — is finalized. Under current practice, backers must wait until their ballot title is approved by either the Oregon attorney general or the state Supreme Court, a process that can be lengthy due to legal disputes about what wording is the most accurate and fair.

Pennsylvania: An Allegheny County election integrity coalition won’t get a ballot question but is still pushing for new laws | The Incline

A referendum effort to get a question about election integrity on the November ballot may have failed, but the coalition behind it still plans to lobby the Allegheny County Council to pass legislation. A coalition of groups including Don’t Tread on My Vote and VoteAllegheny plan to rally at the City-County building at 4 p.m. today and attend the 5 p.m. meeting of county council. As the activists previously explained to the Post-Gazette, their main aim is to get the county to create a commission to review voting machines and eventually have them replaced with ones that leave a paper trail. … With the referendum effort done, the coalition now plans to focus on lobbying county council to pass a 16-page ordinance it drafted or similar legislation.

Michigan: State panel gives OK to ballot petition aimed at ending gerrymandering | Detroit Free Press

Voters Not Politicians wants to change the state constitution to create an independent citizen commission to draw political lines, taking the role away from the Legislature. The group would have to collect close to 316,000 valid signatures to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot. The proposal would establish a 13-member independent citizens commission on which independent voters would have five members, and the two major parties would each have four. The commission is expected to cost at least an extra $5.5 million a year, based on a formula by which an amount equal to 25% of the current budget of the Michigan Secretary of State would be appropriated to support its work, said James Lancaster, a Lansing attorney representing Voters Not Politicians. The money to support the commission would be in addition to what the Secretary of State’s Office now spends, he said.

Mauritania: ‘Useless, Too Costly’ Senate Abolished | Sahara Reporters

Mauritania has joined Senegal in abolishing the Senate, its upper legislative chambers. It was one of the decisions made by voters in a referendum conducted at the weekend. The voters also decided to alter their national flag, the electoral commission announced on Sunday, in a clear victory for President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz the day after the vote. While turnout was 53.73 percent, 85 percent of voters on Saturday declared “Yes” to changes put to a referendum when they were defeated in the Senate in March, despite fierce criticism from a boycott movement that called mass protests during campaigning.

Arizona: Judge won’t block new law Arizona targeting initiatives | Associated Press

A judge on Tuesday refused to block a new state law making it easier for opponents to challenge citizen initiatives, but she sidestepped a decision on whether the law violates the state Constitution. The ruling from Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens said opponents of the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature haven’t yet been harmed because there are no pending initiatives that would be affected by the new standard. “The Court finds this matter is not ripe for judicial review,” Stephens wrote. “Plaintiffs believe House Bill 2244 will affect their future initiative efforts but this Court finds that expectation is not sufficient to make this matter ripe for judicial review of the constitutionality of HB 2244.” The law goes into effect Wednesday and will apply to all future initiatives.

Utah: Ballot initiative forming to create independent commission to redraw political districts | The Salt Lake Tribune

Yet another voter initiative may be headed for the Utah ballot next year. While petition drives already are underway to ask voters to raise taxes for schools or allow medical marijuana use, another now is forming to create an independent redistricting commission. It would handle redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries after the 2020 Census — in the wake of allegations that gerrymandering by the Legislature last time gave Utah Republicans unfair advantages. The new drive is called the “Better Boundaries” initiative. A new political issues committee, Utahns for Responsive Government, has formed to push it and it expects to file papers within a few weeks to start collecting the required 113,143 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Maine: All Voter-Approved Initiatives From 2016 Ballot In Flux In Legislature | Maine PublicRadio

Maine lawmakers are overhauling or set to repeal each of the four citizen-initiated laws that passed in November. Those actions have left some wondering if the voice of the voters is as sacrosanct as it once was. It also reveals the tension between activists and voters frustrated with the pace of change and elected officials who believe the citizen initiative has undercut their role as lawmakers. “The effort to repeal ranked choice voting is a slap in your face from politicians who think they know better than you. It’s time to tell the politicians in Augusta that we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!” says Kyle Bailey to his fellow ranked-choice voting supporters at a rally in front of the State House last month.