Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s evisceration of the people’s right to overturn state laws is nearly complete. Missourians who value that right should not forget it.
His shameful behavior involves the legislation that lawmakers passed last session to severely restrict abortion access in Missouri.
The law is ill-advised and almost certainly unconstitutional. Later this month, a federal court in Kansas City will hold a hearing on blocking it.
But some Missourians don’t want to depend on the unelected courts. They want the people to decide. In May, they began a petition effort to put the near-total abortion ban on the statewide ballot in November 2020 in an effort to repeal it.
The Missouri Constitution gives them that right. “The people reserve power ... to approve or reject by referendum any act of the general assembly,” it says.
Unfortunately, the petitioners didn’t count on Secretary Ashcroft, whose commitment to the state’s constitution and the right to vote often takes a back seat to partisan politics.
Ashcroft rejected the group’s petition, claiming the abortion law could not be put on the ballot. He was wrong. He acted illegally. A state appeals court ordered him to resume the petition process.
Yet the court also gave Ashcroft and Attorney General Eric Schmitt more than a month to review the ballot language, and they’ve taken all of it. The final language is now expected Wednesday.
That means petitioners have just two weeks to gather more than 100,000 signatures across the state to force a referendum on the measure. That’s an almost insurmountable obstacle, which is obviously the point.
The ballot language should not be complicated: In a referendum, a simple “yes” or “no” should suffice.
Ashcroft and other Republicans are no doubt chuckling about their ability to run out the clock. Missourians who value their rights should not be so amused.
Why are Republicans so afraid of voters? Are they afraid Missourians, given the choice, would actually endorse abortion rights — putting an end to the party’s use of the wedge issue? The answer seems obvious.
And why must the Missouri Constitution be turned into a joke? The right to force a popular vote on laws passed by the legislature is fundamental in the state. Just last year, voters overwhelmingly rejected a so-called “right to work” statute using the very mechanism Ashcroft and his pals have gutted.
Abortion is a divisive issue, but Missourians should look beyond it to consider the implications of Ashcroft’s shenanigans. If the right to petition is to have any meaning, it must be administered impartially.
The secretary of state, charged with doing just that, failed.
That failure should be an issue in next year’s race for secretary of state, when voters will have a chance to tell Jay Ashcroft what they think of his performance.