History of Initiative & Referendum in Alaska
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 August 26, 2008 statewide primary, Alaskans considered a total of 45 statewide initiatives, approving 22 and rejecting 23. (This count doesn't include veto referenda or legislative referrals.)
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Moving the state capital
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 three times. The first occasion was in 1968, with the Voter Registration Referendum. The second was in 1975, with the Legislative Compensation Referendum, and the third was the Land-and-Shoot Referendum in 2000.
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.
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.
"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.
2008 on the ballot
Four statewide ballot questions appeared on the August 26 primary ballot in Alaska. All four measures were handily defeated. All four were initiated state statutes: The Gambling Commission Establishment Initiative, the Wolf Protection Act, a campaign finance reform act, and a clean water, anti-Pebble Mine act that was finally ordered onto the August ballot in early July by the Alaska Supreme Court.
- Alaska's history of ballot issues and petitions (dead link)
- Alaska's initiatives from 1960-2000 (dead link)
- Alaska's initiatives from 2001-on (dead link)
- Referendums on Alaska's ballot (dead link)
- League of Women Voters stance of Alaska's I&R process
The original version of this article was significantly based on an article 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.
- History explains the advent of initiative petitions (dead link)
- House Passes HJR 5, Alaska HJR, 2003
- Alaska Legislature Passes Amendment to Reform Initiative Process, Sit News, May 11, 2004
- History of Alaska's initiative
- Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution Temple University Press, 352 pp., ISBN-10: 0877229031, October 1991
History of I&R
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Direct Legislation by the Citizenship Through the Initiative and Referendum • Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution • Direct Legislation: Voting on Ballot Propositions in the United States