Niki Kelly: Ballot initiatives coming to Indiana? No chance

Niki Kelly

The biggest news from the Nov. 7 elections was Ohio’s passage of two ballot initiatives: one legalizing recreational cannabis and another enshrining a right to abortion access into the constitution.

The moves make Indiana an outlier among surrounding states on both topics.

But even more interestingly, it appears to be prompting Indiana Democrats to grab onto ballot initiatives as a 2024 campaign plank.

“Every citizen deserves the right to initiate and vote on ballot measures, and I’ll continue fighting for Hoosiers to have that freedom in 2024,” Senate Democrat Leader Greg Taylor said. “Our jobs are not to push for policies that serve our personal agendas but for what Hoosiers have told us they want.”

Many people point out that voters nationally are choosing a different path than their gerrymandered legislative representatives. It happened in Ohio, where Republicans banned abortion after six weeks. Kansas had a similar vote last year.

“Hoosier voters should have the same choices as our neighbors,” Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl told reporters Nov. 8. “We are becoming an island of restriction, and not truly the crossroads of America.”

He added that the party will likely highlight the topic next year on statewide tours.

Ohio is one of 19 states that has a direct initiative process in which citizens can propose ballot measures without involvement from the state legislature if they meet certain qualifications — usually related to signature gathering and subject matter, as well as various deadlines.

But Republicans have pushed back against such initiatives.

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, spoke against referendum measures Nov. 7 on NewsMax.

“You put very sexy things like abortion and marijuana on the ballot and a lot of young people come out and vote. It was a secret sauce for disaster in Ohio,” he said. “Thank goodness that most of the states in this country don’t allow you to put everything on the ballot because pure democracies are not the way to run a country.”

I was a bit surprised at the sentiment of young people coming out to vote being a negative, but Indiana Right to Life followed up with a similar defense.

“Indiana voters made their voices heard when they elected pro-life candidates predominately, and those voters’ election choices are protected from referendums powered by special interests,” President and CEO Mike Fichter said in a statement after the Ohio votes.

A spokesman for The Indiana Republican Party said it’s up to the General Assembly and executive branch to make policy.

“Our job is to get Republicans elected. Voters do have a say in supporting or rejecting policy decisions when they go to ballot box every election cycle,” said Joe Elsener, executive director of the Indiana GOP.

I support a direct ballot initiative with proper safeguards to ensure a high bar to get on the ballot.

It’s a worthy fight for Democrats, but it would require Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate to willingly give up some power to regular residents. That’s just not going to happen. And to be fair, I don’t think it would happen if the roles were reversed either.

Too bad, because I never think voters casting ballots is a bad thing.

Niki Kelly is editor-in-chief of, where this commentary previously appeared. She has covered Indiana politics and the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 for publications including the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Send comments to [email protected].