Losing Control in Legislatures, Democrats Shift Focus to Ballots

From California to Maine, voters will be faced with dozens of ballot measures this fall, ranging from instant-runoff voting to pharmaceutical regulation. But ballot initiatives aren’t just about the issues. They are also used to help get out the vote. In recent cycles, progressive groups have looked to topics such as minimum-wage increases and marijuana legalization to help drive voter turnout.

The fact is that there are few other avenues for Democrats. Republicans dominate Congress and control big majorities in most state legislatures. “People are recognizing that their legislatures aren’t helping them on issues that they care about, so they’re going directly to the ballot,” says Kellie Dupree, director of programs for the liberal Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

Not to be outdone, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) has set up the Center for Conservative Initiatives. “It was created early in 2015 in response to a very well-thought-out, very well-coordinated effort by Democrats and leftist groups to gain access to the ballot,” says RSLC President Matt Walter.

The new center helped defeat two education funding measures that were on the Mississippi ballot last November. But this year, Walter says, it will “largely be playing defense” as the center develops its own strategies and funding levels. Eventually, he adds, look for the group to back a raft of conservative measures.

May 2016