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Missouri's likely ballot measures this year could attract more Democratic voters

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has awarded licenses to 192 medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri voters could have several marijuana proposals to choose from this fall.

Missouri voters could have several marijuana proposals to choose from this fall, along with ballot issues that seek to increase the state’s minimum wage and change Missouri’s process for crafting legislative districts.

Backers turned in signatures for six initiative-petition proposals by Sunday’s deadline. Four of them deal with marijuana.

Two of the proposals would legalize marijuana for medical use, while two others would legalize it for recreational use as well.

It will likely be a month before the Missouri secretary of state’s office determines which of the six initiative petition proposals met the state’s signature requirements. The ballot measures that have enough signatures would most likely end up on the November ballot, although Gov. Eric Greitens could move some to the August primary if they are certified in time. 

Proposed constitutional amendments need a minimum of roughly 152,000 signatures from registered voters in at least six of the state’s eight congressional districts to get on the ballot. Proposed changes in state law require just under 100,000 signatures.

Both requirements can be tough to meet.

The six groups that turned in signatures by Sunday could be the exceptions. At least 158 initiative-petition proposals had been cleared for signature collection over the past year, although backers for most of them never hit the streets.

Will Democrats benefit?

The minimum wage proposal would immediately increase Missouri’s to $8.60 an hour, from the current $7.85. The proposal then would phase in additional increases until the minimum wage reached $12 an hour in 2023.

The sixth ballot measure has a number of elements. It would restrict gifts to state lawmakers, change some of Missouri’s campaign-donation limits, and revamp how the boundary lines are drawn for the state House and Senate districts.

Although the topics of this year’s ballot proposals vary, there is a common thread: All the initiative measures likely to appear on the ballot appear aimed at attracting younger, progressive voters.

Dave Robertson, head of the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, says politics – as well as policy – may be at play.

“The marijuana measures probably can increase a little bit of turnout among young people in particular, and they will lean Democratic in elections,” Robertson said.

Both parties have used ballot measures in the past to try to whip up their base.

In 2004, Missouri Republicans believed their candidates got a boost from a ballot issue banning same sex marriage. Although the proposal was on the August ballot, the same sex marriage issue was credited with helping the GOP build momentum going into the November general election.

In 2006, November ballot proposals to increase the minimum wage and protect stem cell research were widely seen as helping Democrats – especially Claire McCaskill, who narrowly won her first bid for the U.S. Senate.

In 2010, Republican Roy Blunt’s successful U.S. Senate effect was seen as getting a little help from the strong August victory of a ballot proposal that opposed many of the health-insurance provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act.

This time, some Democrats – battered by their party’s poor showing in 2016 – are optimistic that some ballot measures could attract more younger voters to the polls. Mid-term elections, as a rule, often see an electorate that’s older and more conservative.

Jack Cardetti, spokesman for one of the marijuana proposals, says it has a bipartisan crowd of backers more interested in the issues than the politics. “They don’t want the government involved in their health care decisions,’’ Cardetti said.

State Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Republican from Ballwin, agrees that more Republicans are dropping their opposition to marijuana, particularly for medical use.

But Dogan contends that the “Clean Missouri’’ initiative, which deals with various aspects of state government, is aimed at helping Democrats. He singles out the measure’s proposed formula for changing how the state’s legislative district lines are crafted.

“It’s a pretty blatant attempt to destroy and to wither the power of the Republican Party,” Dogan said.

Organizers of the “Clean Missouri’’ initiative say they are trying to set up a fairer system. But in any case, the dispute could ignite some on both sides to show up at the polls.

Timing of “Right to Work’’ referendum

The six ballot initiatives are separate from the “right to work’’ referendum that goes before voters later this year.

Union activists succeeded last fall in collecting enough signatures to force a referendum on a bill passed by the General Assembly in 2017 to make Missouri a “right to work’’ state.

Under “right to work,’’ unions and employers are barred from requiring all workers to pay dues or fees. Supporters say the law would be fairer to workers, and could attract more business to the state.

Opponents say “right to work’’ drives down wages and is really aimed at hurting unions’ political power, because they often back Democrats.

Missouri union leaders organized the referendum in hopes of getting it on the November ballot. Both sides agree that such a move could help Democratic candidates, including McCaskill.

Republican legislative leaders have said that’s a key reason why they may move the referendum to the August ballot. Union leaders say they expect their referendum to win, regardless of when it goes before Missouri voters.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.