GOP lawmakers want to stop judges from rewriting ballots

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY— A proposal before the Missouri Legislature would ban judges from changing ballot language that has been written by the Legislature.

The House gave first-round approval on Wednesday night to the proposal sponsored by Rep. John Wiemann, a Republican from O'Fallon.

The proposal comes after two courts rewrote language before last year's election on proposed constitutional amendment to change how Missouri was to draw state legislative districts, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The proposal also banned lobbyist gifts. Lawmakers considered that portion of the bill more popular with voters than the redistricting segment, so it was first in the ballot language. 

But Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce rewrote the summary after ruling that the language was "insufficient and unfair" and violated Missouri law. The Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District made more changes before the proposal appeared on the ballot.

After the revisions, the redistricting question, Amendment 3, passed with 51% support.

State law requires ballot summaries to be "a true and impartial statement of the purposes of the proposed measure" and "neither intentionally argumentative nor likely to create prejudice either for or against the proposed measure."

Wiemann argued his proposal would stop judges from "legislating from the bench," because writing the language is the Legislature's job. He said if judges decide the ballot language is unconstitutional, they can reject it but not rewrite it.

But Democrats said the proposal would make it easier for partisan language to appear on the ballot.

"We're trying to make democracy accessible for people, and when we allow a supermajority to dictate the language that is on these ballot initiatives, we do a disservice" to constituents, said Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Kansas City.