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With abortion rights looming, Missouri GOP advances slanted ballot rules

Ohio Republicans last year suffered a double blow in their efforts to thwart the steady nationwide progress of abortion rights ballot measures.

First they tried and failed to require ballot measures to get 60 percent of the vote, in a transparent ploy to raise the threshold for an abortion rights amendment to the state constitution. Voters rejected that, with 57 percent voting against a 60 percent threshold. Then they lost on the actual abortion rights amendment by about the same margin, making Ohio the latest red state to vote in favor of abortion rights.

But that hasn’t dissuaded other red-state Republicans from trying their own creative workarounds.

And Missouri Republicans are among the most audacious, proposing new restrictions that clearly favor their side.

Abortion rights activists in the state are working to get an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot in November. But the GOP-controlled Missouri state Senate on Thursday approved a measure that could make such things significantly more difficult — at least for the left.

The proposal, which passed along party lines, would require amendments to receive not only a majority of the vote statewide — as is currently required — but also a majority in five of eight congressional districts.

This would be a much bigger hurdle for those on the left, because Missouri has five very Republican congressional districts.

There is plenty to work out, with the state House preferring an alternative version that includes extraneous language meant to lure voters to support the measure. And voters would have to approve it. But the Associated Press reports that Republicans aim to get it on the August primary ballot — in other words, to put the new requirements into effect before voters would potentially vote on abortion rights in November.

The ostensible purpose, as in Ohio, is to ensure that amendments to the state constitution have broad support. More practically, it would empower very Republican-leaning congressional districts to kill something that might have clear majority support in the state.

Let’s dig into what that would mean.

Missouri voted 57 percent for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020 — about the same as Ohio, a fellow former swing state.

But Missouri has six Republican-leaning congressional districts, and it has five that lean very Republican.

If this raised threshold were in place for November, it would likely mean that an abortion rights amendment would not only need to win a 62 percent Trump district, but also one of four districts that gave Trump more than 67 percent. That’s a significantly higher bar.

For comparison, the Ohio abortion rights amendment last year got 57 percent of the vote in a state that gave President Biden 45 percent in 2020. It overperformed Biden by 12 points.

For an abortion rights amendment to pass in Missouri’s 6th Congressional District — the most attainable of the state’s four heavily Republican districts — it would need to overperform Biden’s 2020 performance (30.6 percent) there by nearly 20 points.

That district, represented by Republican Sam Graves, favored Trump 67.7 percent to 30.6 percent in 2020. (To get a sense of how red that is, it’s comparable to the second-reddest state in the 2020 election, West Virginia, which went for Trump 68.6 percent to 29.7 percent).

It remains to be seen whether GOP lawmakers in Missouri will press forward. The Ohio example showed that voters don’t particularly like seeing direct democracy watered down. And it wasn’t the first state in recent years — or even the first red state — to vote against changes making it harder to amend the state constitution. Arkansas and South Dakota voters have done the same.

Those measures focused on raising the statewide threshold; Missouri’s is a little more difficult to grasp but could make such measures even harder to pass.

That is, unless those measures come from Republicans.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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