Our viewpoint: Indiana politicians, why can’t we have referendums?


Aim Media Indiana

If you followed the news last week, you might have seen that voters next door in Ohio rejected proposals to limit ballot questions in the Buckeye State.

Hoosiers can be forgiven if this all seemed exotic.

Unlike voters in Indiana, those in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and elsewhere have rights that we do not enjoy. Those voters are permitted to gather signatures and if they gather enough and follow the rules get questions placed on the ballot for the voters to decide.

The referendum is one of the few opportunities people have at the grassroots to change laws or direct their government. It’s probably as close to true democracy as we get in the United States.

So when Republicans in the Ohio Statehouse tried to fundamentally limit the rights of Ohioans to vote on issues, voters didn’t just say no, they said hell no. More than 57% of voters rejected a proposal to raise the threshold for a referendum to pass from a bare majority of 50% plus one to 60%.

Of course, this minority-rule proposal did not come out of thin air. Ohio Republicans put this question on the ballot because voters there will decide in November whether to preserve the right to abortion in that state, and Republicans who control levers of power in that other Columbus east of here can read the writing on the wall.

Those pols know that in Kentucky, Michigan, Kansas, Vermont and everywhere else people have had the opportunity to vote on the question, abortion rights have prevailed. So Ohio Republicans brazenly tried to change the rules.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned a federal right to abortion and left it up to the states to decide, no vote of the people anywhere has stripped a woman’s right to choose. And last week, Ohio voters saw through what some analysts politely described as cynical politics at play. Voters turned out in unexpected droves for an election in … August?

When the Indiana General Assembly’s supermajority Republicans rushed to pass some of the nation’s most stringent abortion restrictions just days after that Supreme Court ruling last year, they did so safe in the knowledge voters here would never have a say. Not as long as lawmakers had anything to say about it. This despite (or perhaps because of) numerous polls of Indiana voters showing a majority believe abortion should be legal in most cases.

It’s long past time Indiana had a functional statewide referendum procedure that allows the people of this state to put forward ballot questions. And not just on abortion. On marijuana legalization. On criminal justice matters. And on and on.

Indiana would be far more politically representative if the people were empowered to vote on basic questions. We also suggest that support for statewide referendums is a winning issue for candidates for state office, regardless of party. Respect for the citizens they seek to represent should demand it.

Indiana ranked 46th out of 50 states in voter turnout in the 2020 election, according to the 2022 Indiana Civic Health Index. That’s pitiful, but it’s understandable. Many voters believe they never get a direct say on issues important to them. Sadly, they’re right, and that’s awful for representative government.

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