History of Initiative & Referendum in Wyoming
Although first approved as an option for Wyoming voters in 1968, only seven citizen initiatives have appeared on Wyoming ballots. Three (all in 1992) were approved. One veto referendum, in 1996, also made it onto the ballot. Additionally, an initiative to preserve minimum instream water flows qualified for the 1986 ballot but did not appear on the ballot because it was determined that the Wyoming legislature had passed substantially similar legislation in 1985.
Altogether, the wording for 30 different initiatives has been filed with the Wyoming Secretary of State since 1970.
- See also: List of Wyoming ballot measures.
Wyoming’s initiative and referendum pioneer was State Rep. L. C. Tidball of Sheridan. In the early 1890s Tidball was one of the first state legislators in the nation - possibly the very first - to introduce a bill to amend a state constitution to provide for statewide I&R.
The Wyoming legislature waited 19 years before finally taking favorable action on an I&R bill in 1912, after all the surrounding states had already put I&R into their constitutions. It was favored by a six to one margin of the voters who cast ballots on its ratification. It still failed to take effect, however, because Wyoming constitutional amendments required ratification by a "supermajority" of all the voters casting ballots in the election, which made blank ballots count as "no" votes. By this standard, the I&R amendment narrowly failed.
1968 through 1996
Finally, in 1968, Wyoming’s legislature passed an I&R amendment, and it won voter ratification. But the procedures, specified by the legislature, included the most difficult petition requirement for initiatives of any state law in the nation: 15 percent of the number of ballots cast in the preceding gubernatorial election. And it did not allow voters to propose or vote on initiative constitutional amendments at all.
Though several attempts were made, only one initiative qualified for the ballot in 20 years: a proposed law, titled "In-stream Flows," that would allow the state’s fish and game department to claim water rights on behalf of fish and wildlife, so that future development - and particularly energy projects like a proposed water-guzzling coal slurry pipeline - would not drain essential water sources. The backers’ first petition drive, in 1981, fell 1,000 names short, and they were forced to start again. By early 1986 they had finally qualified their measure for the November 1986 ballot. The legislature enacted it in March 1986, making a citizen vote on the measure unnecessary.
In 1992, the first statewide initiative qualified for the ballot. It was an initiative to ban triple trailers from state highways – it passed overwhelmingly. That same year, two other initiatives qualified for the ballot – a term limits measure and an initiative that would regulate railroads and hazardous materials. They both passed. Since 1992, only three other initiatives have made the ballot. The reason for the low number is that the initiative process in Wyoming ranks as one of the most difficult in the country. Attempts by pro-initiative legislators in 2002 to try and lessen the restrictions on the initiative process went nowhere.
Since 1996, sponsors have filed the wording for five initiatives with the Wyoming Secretary of State, the Wyoming Denturity Initiative (1998), the Wyoming Ethics in Government Initiative, the Wyoming Surface Owners' Accommodation Initiative, the Wyoming Food Tax Exemption Initiative (2006) and the Wyoming Denturism Initiative (2010). The first two failed for lack of sufficient signatures, the legislative objectives of the third were met in a bill passed by the Wyoming legislature, resulting in the withdrawal of the initiative, the Food Tax initiative did not collect sufficient signatures, and the Denturism Initiative has until September 2, 2008 to collect enough signatures to be placed on the 2010 ballot.
- Initiative & Referendum Summary Sheet, prepared by the Wyoming Secretary of State
- Statewide initiative use in Wyoming
Preparation of this article was significantly assisted by consulting the Wyoming history prepared by the Initiative & Referendum Institute, whose research in turn was based on David Schmidt's book, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution.