A Citizens’ Veto Could Prevent Or Address ‘Lame-Duck’ Power Grabs In The Future [Opinion]

As Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan aim to remove powers from incoming Democrats, a solution exists that could be utilized in the future.

Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly Robin Vos talks on the floor of that legislative body.
Andy Manis / Getty Images

As Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan aim to remove powers from incoming Democrats, a solution exists that could be utilized in the future.

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and Michigan are attempting to usurp the will of voters, who sent Democratic candidates to their respective state gubernatorial offices last November, by removing powers they were totally comfortable seeing previous Republican governors wield.

In my home state of Wisconsin, hundreds of citizens spent hours decrying the issue during a legislative listening session, according to reporting from the Progressive. Thousands more protested the bills that aimed to remove the abilities of executive branch elected officials, including Gov.-elect Tony Evers, to govern.

Many have lambasted the actions of the “lame-duck” legislature. I’ve even read some suggestions on social media that new laws should not come about during such sessions, as they ignore the incoming government and the desires of the people to see that government address such concerns.

That’s a move that goes a bit too far, I believe, because sometimes lame-duck sessions are needed — an emergency law to deal with a natural disaster could come about, for example, only through such lame-duck legislation.

But to ensure bills attempting to change the rules of democracy itself, like what we’ve seen in the past week in Wisconsin and Michigan, don’t permanently alter the collective will of the people following an election, a new reform ought to be considered and implemented in states across the nation: the citizens’ veto.

Several states already have this ballot-driven initiative, according to National Public Radio. Some states allow such a veto through popular referendum ballots, while others specifically limit the right to only allow citizens to give a “yes” or “no” vote on a recently passed measure.

How it works is that citizens, collecting a certain threshold of signatures from voting-age persons across their state in an allotted amount of time, submit said petitions to the state demanding a “yes” or “no” vote on a particular law that was recently passed. If the petition isn’t challenged, the law is suspended until the next election date when the voters themselves decide if it should remain on the books or not.

A citizens veto could be used in Michigan, for example, if the people there become inspired enough to address the un-democratic power grab happening in their state. Wisconsin, however, doesn’t have such a means to address unpopular legislation, especially those laws that pass during a lame-duck session.

Lawmakers in the state, and specifically legislative Republicans, if they care about preserving the will of the people at all (as they have signaled they have in the past), should implement such a procedure for the people to employ if they desire. A proposed citizens veto could even be limited to the time after an election but before the new legislative term takes place, to ensure it wouldn’t be overused during the regular legislative sessions.

Given the current makeup of the state legislature — most of the Republicans that voted in favor of the power grab this year will remain in office in the next legislative term — that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

But just because lawmakers won’t embrace this reform doesn’t mean they shouldn’t, and citizens across the state should similarly demand the citizens’ veto be given to them. Doing so would empower voters to have their voices heard, especially in the weeks after they choose new lawmakers to lead them, and prevent such egregious power grabs from happening again in the future.