History of Initiative & Referendum in Alaska

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The History of Initiative & Referendum in Alaska began in 1959 when it became the 20th state to adopt a statewide initiative process. Alaska's law allows for indirect initiated state statutes (laws) and for a veto referendum (to overturn laws passed by the Alaska State Legislature). However, Alaska voters do not have the right to make appropriations or amend the state constitution.

The right of initiative is spelled out in Article XI of the Alaska Constitution under, "The people may propose and enact laws by the initiative, and approve or reject acts of the legislature by referendum."

From 1960, the first year Alaskans voted on an initiative, through the November 4, 2014 general election, Alaskans considered a total of 51 statewide initiatives, approving 27 and rejecting 24. (This count doesn't include veto referenda or legislative referrals.)

# won # lost  % Won  % lost
27 24 53% 47%

Moving the state capital

Alaska Capitol, still in Juneau

Citizens have attempted to relocate the capital from Juneau to Anchorage 5 times through the initiative process. In 1974, voters approved an initiative to relocate the state capitol. Without an appropriation, this decision could be implemented only if the legislature acted. Since the legislature failed to respond, voters passed another initiative in 1978, this time requiring the state government to determine the cost of relocation and stipulating that any bond issue to finance that cost be subject to voter approval. The bond issue went to the voters in 1980, but they rejected it, resulting in Juneau remaining the state capital, despite its great distance from the major population center of Anchorage.

Unicameral advisory vote

In 1972, Alaskans voted in favor of an Advisory Vote on a Unicameral Legislature. The vote was approved, but the legislature declined to place the requested constitutional amendment on the ballot for a statewide vote.

Abolishing the state income tax

The Alaskan legislature did pay heed, however, to an initiative sponsored by the Libertarian Party to abolish the state personal income tax. The initiative qualified for the November 1980 ballot but was so popular that it was enacted by the legislature on September 25 of that year, thus making a popular vote unnecessary.

Use of veto referendum in Alaska

See also: List of veto referenda in Alaska

Alaskan voters have turned to the veto referendum process four times. The first occasion was in 1968, with the Voter Registration Referendum. The second was in 1975, with the Legislative Compensation Referendum, the third was the Land-and-Shoot Referendum in 2000 and the fourth was in 2014 with the Oil Tax Cuts Referendum.

Legislative support of the I&R process

In 1997 the Alaska elections division posted an article on its website that took a decidedly negative viewpoint on the initiative process, listing an array of reasons that people can not be trusted to enact legislation, even while citing there has been no evidence proving this. The report takes care to call the direct democracy a "buyer beware" system and quoting John Jacobs' opinion that many initiatives are special interests masquerading as the people.[1]

In 2004, the Alaska House of Representatives passed legislation which took steps to complicate the state's initiative process by requiring a "wider range" of voters be involved in the process. It added a distribution requirement so that signatures henceforth must be obtained from residents in at least three-quarters of the House Districts in Alaska. Additionally, the signatures gathered in each district must equal at least 7% percent of the number of people who voted in the most recent general election.[2]

"I've been working on getting this kind of an amendment passed for more than six years. The initiative process has not been working the way the framers of our constitution intended it to do. Alaska must not fall prey to the kind of ballot-box lawmaking that has hamstrung governments in places like California and Oregon," said Rep. Bill Williams, who proposed the legislation.[3]

2014 on the ballot

Three statewide ballot questions were on the November 4, 2014, ballot in Alaska. All three measures were approved. All three were initiated state statutes: The Marijuana Legalization Initiative, the Minimum Wage Increase Initiative and the Bristol Bay Mining Ban Initiative.

See also

External links


The original version of this article was significantly based on an article[4] published by the Initiative & Referendum Institute, and is used with their permission. Their article, in turn, relies on research in David Schmidt's book, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution.[5]