DemDaily: Initiatives in Your State – and on the Ballot

August 24th 2016

Ballot initiatives have become an integral part of the electoral process - as a form of direct democracy, and as an influence on the rest of the ballot.

A Ballot Initiative is a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can bring about a public vote on a proposed statute or constitutional amendment.

The US system of initiatives and referendums originated in Oregon in 1902 as an attempt to expand individual voting rights and the ability to hold legislators accountable. The "Oregon System" spread to other states, and became one of the signature reforms of the Progressive Era - utilized to recall elected officials and stage referendums on controversial new legislation.

Twenty-four states allow ballot initiatives or, depending on the state, "popular initiative," "voter initiative" or "citizen initiative."

Types of Ballot Initiatives
Direct Initiative: a measure is put directly to a popular vote after being submitted by a petition.
Indirect initiative: a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then only put to a popular vote if not enacted by the legislature.
Referendum allows voters to approve or repeal an act of their state's legislature through a petition to demand a popular vote on the law.

The Cost
Ballot initiatives have also become a part of the political industry, with full-fledged media and ground campaigns which, for high profile races, can cost up to 60 or 70 million dollars, depending on the state.

2016 Initiatives
The Issues
Ballot initiatives often touch on hot-button issues. The 2016 lineup includes the first-in-the-nation statewide plastic bag ban (California), background checks for gun purchases (Nevada), a new system of voting (Maine), minimum wage raise (5 states),
marijuana legalization (9 states), and several contentious healthcare-related initiatives, among others.

Five are in presidential battleground states, where key ballot initiatives could affect voter turnout and/or compete for the vote.

Hillary Clinton is expected to benefit the most from the marijuana initiatives in Arizona, Maine & Nevada, while Trump is counting on the NRA's efforts to defeat mandatory background checks to bring out his supporters in two of those states - Maine and Nevada.

The States
150 statewide ballot measures have been certified for the 2016 ballot. Of these measures, 70 were put on the ballot by citizens through signature petitions, rather than by state legislatures. In addition, 10 initiative petitions are pending signature verification.

Top Issues
Marijuana Legalization Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota
Minimum Wage Arizona, Colorado, Maine, South Dakota, Washington
Healthcare / Drug Prices California (x2), Colorado, Nevada, Washington
Gun Control Measures California, Maine, Nevada, Washington

For more information on ballot initiatives check out: Ballot Initiative Strategy Center


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Kimberly Scott

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