DemDaily: Moving Measures in the States. A Guide to Ballot Initiatives

July 19, 2022 

Americans in 35 states will vote on 113 statewide ballot measures on November 8, 2022.

In a year when control of the US House and Senate are at stake, major support or opposition to a ballot measure can help drive voter turnout and impact the outcome of other elections on the ticket.

Ballot initiatives, measures driven by citizens, have been a part of our electoral process for 120 years -- as a form of direct democracy and as an avenue for checking legislative powers.

Types of Ballot Measures
Measures come primarily in the form of citizen initiatives or referendums, or through legislative referral.

Citizen Initiatives
Citizen Initiated Constitutional Amendment (CICA) or State Statute (CISS): Also called a direct initiative, it is when a measure is put directly to a popular vote after being submitted by citizen petition.

* Indirect Initiated Constitutional Amendment (IndICA) or State Statute (IndISS): A measure is first referred to the legislature, and then only put to a popular vote if not enacted by the legislature.

* Veto Referendum (VR): Also called a citizen or popular referendum, it allows voters to approve or repeal an act of their state's legislature through citizen petition.

Legislative Referrals
*  Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment (LRCA) or State Statute (LRSS): Allows a state legislature to put a constitutional amendment or state statute up for popular vote.

*  Bond Issue (BI): When a state government or a local unit of government places a question before the voters, asking them to approve or deny additional proposed spending.

Others include Advisory Questions, Automatic Ballot Referrals, Commission Referral, and Convention Referred Constitutional Amendment.

The Populist Party developed the concept of ballot initiatives 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, require voters to ratify proposed state constitutional amendments.

Over the last two decades, the average number of statewide measures in odd years was 38, and 184 in even years, 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.

The cost of waging a statewide ballot measure averages in the millions. Committees registered to support or oppose 2020 statewide measures reported a combined total of $1.24 billion in contributions and $1.22 billion in expenditures.

2022 Measures
There are currently 113 statewide ballot measures in 35 states that have been certified for the midterm elections, covering issues from the environment, marijuana, taxes, healthcare and gaming, to abortion, victims' and voter rights.

At least seven of those attack the initiative process itself.

According to Ballotpedia, there are another 50 potential measures, including 43 initiated ballot measures and 7 referred ballot measures, that could still appear on the ballot in 2022.

Coming Up: 2022 Ballot Measures in Your State

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Ballotpedia, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), NCSL

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