Missouri Lawmakers Support Single Subject Rule for Ballot Measures – Until They Want to Rob Voters of Choice

Created: 22 May, 2024
4 min read

The Missouri House advanced a measure to the November ballot that would do two things: First, it would make it illegal for noncitizens to vote in the state, which is already illegal under federal and state law.

Second, it would ban the use of ranked choice voting.

SJR 78, which cleared the state Senate in April, changes only a single word in Article III, Section 2 of the Missouri Constitution as it pertains to voter eligibility from “All citizens of the United States" to “Only citizens.”

There is no difference between them and nothing would change about voter eligibility. 

The proposal also amends Sections 3 to implement a ban on RCV with the exception of nonpartisan municipal elections in which it is already in place. So, it can still be used in St. Louis. 

The noncitizen part of the proposed amendment is what has colloquially been called “ballot candy.” It is a safe proposal that lawmakers know will get a “yes” vote in order to get an unrelated matter approved with it.

It is a method commonly used within state legislatures and Congress to get bills passed, and the RCV ban is not the only proposed change to the Missouri Constitution in 2024 that has had “ballot candy” added to it.

Democratic lawmakers filibustered a proposed change to the Missouri Constitution for 50 hours that would make it easier to block citizen-led initiatives to amend the state’s constitution from making it on the ballot and pass.  

The amendment that would go before voters would have also included provisions on noncitizen voting and foreign entities sponsoring proposed constitutional amendments, two things that – again – are already illegal. 

IVP Existence Banner

Missouri lawmakers have tried and failed to make the ballot initiative process more cumbersome for reformers. So, if this “ballot candy” remained in the amendment they would likely be the focus to trick people into voting against their interests.

This type of trickery is the stated reason why Missouri and many other states have a single-subject rule for proposed constitutional amendments. The Missouri Constitution states in Article III, Section 50:

"Petitions for constitutional amendments shall not contain more than one amended and revised article of this constitution, or one new article which shall not contain more than one subject and matters properly connected therewith."

It further states:

“Petitions for laws shall contain not more than one subject which shall be expressed clearly in the title…”

State lawmakers and party leaders have used the single-subject rule to challenge the validity of ballot initiatives in the past. In 2018, a GOP-backed lawsuit challenged Amendment 1, also known as the “Clean Missouri” plan. 

The amendment reformed the way the state conducted redistricting, made it illegal for state lawmakers to accept gifts from lobbyists over $5 and put a two-year ban on the revolving door from legislating to lobbying, and would change contribution limits and disclosure requirements.

A Cole County judge initially sided with the plaintiffs that the comprehensive reform approach violated the single-subject rule, but the decision was later overturned by the Western District Court of Appeals. 

IVP Existence Banner

The appeals court determined that the multiple provisions of Amendment 1 “all relate to a single central purpose: regulating the legislature to limit the influence of partisan or other special interests."

Missouri voters approved Amendment 1 with 62% of the vote – after which state lawmakers worked to dismantle it. 

The question then becomes: Does the amendment to ban RCV violate the single-subject rule?

After all, it addresses two separate questions: One about who is eligible to vote, which makes no change to current law, and the other about what voting methods can be used in an election. 

It is likely that legislators would argue on technicality that the amendment to ban RCV only amends a single Article (Article III) in the state constitution – Section 2 for the noncitizen portion and Section 3 for the RCV ban.

Amendment sponsor Sen. Ben Brown says the purpose of it is “to fortify our elections to make sure that every Missourian’s voice is heard and counted.” On these grounds, he would argue the proposals serve a single purpose of defining an eligible vote

No matter how supporters spin it, however, many of the same lawmakers who believed Amendment 1 in 2018 should be removed from the ballot on a literal interpretation of “single subject” are now pushing an amendment based on the broader interpretation that kept Amendment 1 on the ballot.

SJR 78 also opposes what is often asserted to be the spirit of the single-subject rule which is to ensure no one could play deceptive games with voters or try to dupe them into supporting something they might not if it was on its own amendment. 

IVP Existence Banner

Make no mistake: Most of the ads that Missouri voters see as it pertains to this amendment will be on the citizenship provision. It is the bait to garner support. Many voters may not even hear about the RCV ban unless a group or coalition spends the needed resources on voter education.

Latest articles

Poll Shows Strong Support for 'Top Two' Measure in South Dakota
A recent poll shows that 55% of South Dakota voters support Amendment H, which if approved in November will implement a nonpartisan, top-two primary in the state similar to systems used in California and Washington....
13 June, 2024
2 min read
Washington DC
Report: Half of 2024 US House Races Already a Done Deal
Editor's Note: The following article on The Fulcrum and has been republished with permission from t...
12 June, 2024
3 min read
Arizona Initiative: Parties Can Either Accept Open Primaries or Pay for Them
Arizona is ground zero for a novel approach to voting reform that is not getting any attention from the national press, but could have tremendous implications for future elections and provide a fairer process for all voters -- regardless of their political affiliation. ...
12 June, 2024
5 min read