Initiative

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Definition

The initiative process gives voters the power to propose and enact legislation by popular vote, rather than through the traditional legislative process. Voters have this power in twenty-four states.

An initiative may be either direct or indirect. In the case of an indirect initiative, the voters must submit legislation to the legislature; if the legislation is not enacted, then it goes to the voters. In the case of a direct initiative, voters may bypass the legislature entirely.

Initiative States

While most initiative states allow voters to propose both laws and amendments, some states permit only one or the other; the maps below show initiative states, whether voters may propose laws, amendments, or both, and whether the initiative may be direct or indirect.

Initiative States
Amendment Law
image:initiative-states-amendment.jpg image:initiative-states-law.jpg
   The constitution cannot be amended by inititiave.
   The constitution may be amended by direct initative.
   The constitution may be amended by indirect initiative.
    Laws cannot be passed by inititiave.
    Laws may be passed by direct initative.
    Laws may be passed by indirect initiative.
    Laws may be passed by both direct and indirect initiative.

Signature Requirements

Before its sponsors can submit an initiative to the legislature or to the voters of their state, the state requires that its sponsors show proof of popular support. To provide such proof, sponsors circulate petitions in support of the initiative among state residents; if sponsors gather sufficient signatures within a certain time, the initiative will proceed to the legislature or to the voters.

The number of signatures, their geographic distribution, and the time afforded to collect them may vary by state, by year, and by inititiative type. The maps below show whether a state requires signatures follow a certain geographic distribution and how long the state allows signatures to be gathered. The table below further details the signature requirements for each state and initiative type.


Signature Requirements
Geographic Distribution Circulation Period
image:initiative-states-geographic.jpg image:states-initiative-circulation.jpg
   No initiative.
   Signatures need not follow a geographic distribution.
   Signatures must follow a certain geographic distribution.
    No initiative.
    Petitions may be circulated for an unlimited period of time.
    Petitions may be circulated between one and four years.
    Petitions may be circulated for less than one year.
State Type Signatures Required Geographic Distribution Circulation Period
AK IL 10.0% of votes cast in the last GE At least 1 signature in 2/3 of Election Districts 1 years
AR DA 10.0% of votes cast for Governor 5.0% in 15 of 75 Counties
Unlimited
AR DL 8.0% of votes cast for Governor 5.0% in 15 of 75 Counties
Unlimited
AZ DA 15.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 20 months
AZ DL 10.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 20 months
CA DA 8.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 150 days
CA DL 5.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 150 days
CO DA 5.0% of votes cast for SOS No geographic distribution 6 months
CO DL 5.0% of votes cast for SOS No geographic distribution 6 months
FL DA 8.0% of ballots cast in the last PE 8.0% in 12 of 23 Congressional Districts 4 years
ID DL 6.0% of registered voters 6.0% in 22 of 22 Counties 18 months
MA IA 3.0% of votes cast for Governor No more than 25% from a single county 64 days
MA IL 3.5% of votes cast for Governor No more than 25% from a single county 64 days
ME IL 10.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 1 years
MI DA 10.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 180 days
MI IL 8.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 180 days
MO DA 8.0% of votes cast for Governor 5.0% in 6 of 9 Congressional Districts 16 months
MS IA 12.0% of votes cast for Governor 20.0% in 4 of 4 Congressional Districts 1 years
MT DA 10.0% of votes cast for Governor 10.0% in 40 of 50 Legislative Districts 1 years
MT DL 5.0% of votes cast for Governor 5.0% in 34 of 50 Legislative Districts 1 years
ND DA 4.0% of population No geographic distribution 1 years
ND DL 2.0% of population No geographic distribution 1 years
NE DA 10.0% of registered voters 5.0% in 38 of 93 Counties 1 years
NE DL 7.0% of registered voters 5.0% in 38 of 93 Counties 1 years
NV DA 10.0% of registered voters 10.0% in 13 of 17 Counties 11 months
NV IL 10.0% of votes cast in the last GE 10.0% in 13 of 17 Counties 10 months
OH DA 10.0% of votes cast for Governor 5.0% in 44 of 88 Counties
Unlimited
OH IL 6.0% of votes cast for Governor 1.5% in 44 of 88 Counties
Unlimited
OK DA 15.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 90 days
OK DL 8.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 90 days
OR DA 8.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution
Unlimited
OR DL 6.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution
Unlimited
SD DA 10.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 1 years
SD DL 5.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 1 years
UT DL 10.0% of votes cast for Governor 10.0% in 20 of 29 Counties
Unlimited
UT IL 10.0% of votes cast for Governor 10.0% in 20 of 29 Counties
Unlimited
WA DL 8.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 6 months
WA IL 8.0% of votes cast for Governor No geographic distribution 10 months
WY IL 15.0% of votes cast in the last GE 15% of total votes cast in the last election from at least 2/3 of the counties 18 months

Alaska Arizona Arkansas California Colorado District of Columbia Florida Idaho Maine Massachusetts Washington

Timing of Ballot Issues

Only five states permit ballot issues in odd numbered years. They are Maine, Colorado, Mississippi, Ohio and Washington State.

States Without Initiatives

Half of the states (25) do not have the citizen initiative for either constitutional amendments or for laws. They are:

Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Generally speaking, the earlier a state entered the United States, the less likely it is to authorize initiatives.

Criticism

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Progressive Era reformers wrote the initiative into state constitutions, they hoped that the process would allow the people and counteract corporate corruption of state legislatures. Unfortunately, the same corporate corruption now influences the initiative process, with corporate interests turning to the initiative when their efforts in the legislature fail.

Critics of the initiative process argue that it leads to bad policy because there is no room to debate or amend a measure -- the citizens must give it an up or down vote as proposed by its sponsor. Critics also argue that voters are often ill informed about initiatives due to a lack of time to study their details or to consider the problems addressed globally (e.g. tax limitations within the context of an overall budget picture).

References

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