DemDaily: Moving Measures in the States

June 23, 2020

Ballot initiatives have become an integral part of our electoral process - as a form of direct democracy and as an avenue for checking legislative powers.

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

Types of Ballot Initiatives
Direct Initiative: a measure is put directly to a popular vote after being submitted by citizen 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.
Constitutional Initiatives may be referred to a statewide ballot through citizen petitions.
Referendum allows voters to approve or repeal an act of their state's legislature through citizen petition

Legislative Referral : Allows a state legislature to put a statute or constitutional amendment up for popular vote.


The concept of ballot initiatives was developed by the Populist Party in the 1890s, which was strongest throughout the South and the West, and where initiatives are still most prevalent today.

The first formal initiative 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, used to recall elected officials and stage referendums on controversial new legislation.

Ballot Power
Today, twenty-six states and DC grant their citizens amendment, statute and/or veto referendum power through the initiative process. All US states, with the exception of Delaware, allow legislatively-referred statute or constitutional amendments (LRCAs).

Over the last decade, the average number of initiatives in odd years is 33, and in even years the statewide measures average 170 on the ballot, with hundreds more at the local level. 
Major wedge or publicly controversial initiatives are usually held in on-election (even) years when congressional and more electoral seats are up.

In a year when control of the White House, the US Senate and key legislatures throughout the country are at stake, major support or opposition to a ballot measure can be a critical factor in helping drive higher voter turnout to the polls.

High-profile initiative campaigns in large states can run up to $70 million (Ballotpedia)

2020 Initiatives
As of June 23, 2020, 96 statewide ballot measures in 32 states had been certified for the 2020 ballot, covering issues from marijuana, election law, taxes, healthcare and energy, to victims' rights, minimum wage and abortion.

Although a handful have, or will be, held prior to this year's general election, 87 measures will be on the ballot November 3rd.

In the age of elections during the coronavirus pandemic, however, citizen-led ballot campaigns that typically rely on collecting thousands of constituent signatures at large local events or by door-to-door canvassing, are up against unprecedented challenges.

While some states and cities are rewriting policies to accommodate the crisis and allow flexibility in the initiative process, others have been more resistant, resulting in suspension of signature-gathering or delay of a measure indefinitely.

While it is too early to know which of the following measures won't survive, check the initiatives in your state and see where you can make a difference at the ballot box!

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources:  Ballotpedia, Wikipedia, Bloomberg

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