Ballot initiatives coming to Indiana? No chance.

November 10, 2023 7:00 am

Michelle Black of Columbus (center) listens to Lauren Blauvelt speak during the Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom Bans OFF Columbus rally for Issue 1, October 8, 2023. (Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

The biggest news from Tuesday night’s elections was Ohio’s passage of two ballot initiatives: one legalizing recreational cannabis and another enshrining a right to abortion access into the constitution.

The moves makes Indiana an outlier among surrounding states on both topics.

But even more interestingly, it appears to be prompting Indiana Democrats to grab onto ballot initiatives as a 2024 campaign plank.

“Every citizen deserves the right to initiate and vote on ballot measures, and I’ll continue fighting for Hoosiers to have that freedom in 2024,” Senate Democrat Leader Greg Taylor said. “Our jobs are not to push for policies that serve our personal agendas but for what Hoosiers have told us they want.”

Many people point out that voters nationally are choosing a different path than their gerrymandered legislative representatives. It happened in Ohio, where Republicans banned abortion after six weeks. Kansas had a similar vote last year.

“Hoosier voters should have the same choices as our neighbors,” Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl told reporters Wednesday. “We are becoming an island of restriction, and not truly the crossroads of America.”

He added that the party will likely highlight the topic next year on statewide tours.

Ohio is one of 19 states that has a direct initiative process in which citizens can propose ballot measures without involvement from the state legislature if they meet certain qualifications — usually related to signature gathering and subject matter, as well as various deadlines.

GOP opposed

But Republicans have pushed back against such initiatives.

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, spoke against referendum measures Tuesday night on NewsMax.

“You put very sexy things like abortion and marijuana on the ballot and a lot of young people come out and vote. It was a secret sauce for disaster in Ohio,” he said. “Thank goodness that most of the states in this country don’t allow you to put everything on the ballot because pure democracies are not the way to run a country.”

I was a bit surprised at the sentiment of young people coming out to vote being a negative, but Indiana Right to Life followed up with a similar defense.

“Indiana voters made their voices heard when they elected pro-life candidates predominately, and those voters election choices are protected from referendums powered by special interests,” President and CEO Mike Fichter said in a statement after the Ohio votes.

A spokesman for The Indiana Republican Party said it’s up to the General Assembly and executive branch to make policy.

“Our job is to get Republicans elected. Voters do have a say in supporting or rejecting policy decisions when they go to ballot box every election cycle,” saidJoe Elsener, executive director of the Indiana GOP.

I support a direct ballot initiative with proper safeguards to ensure a high bar to get on the ballot.

It’s a worthy fight for Democrats but it would require Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate to willingly give up some power to regular residents. That’s just not going to happen. And to be fair, I don’t think it would happen if the roles were reversed either.

Too bad, because I never think voters casting ballots is a bad thing.


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Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.