Ballot initiative

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The 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. Ballot initiatives are also called, depending on the state, "popular initiative," "voter initiative," "citizen initiative" or just "initiative."

Twenty-four states allow ballot initiatives, which are a form of direct democracy.

Ballot initiatives may take the form of either the direct or indirect initiative. Under the direct initiative, a measure is put directly to a vote after being submitted by a petition. Under the indirect initiative, a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then only put to a popular vote if not enacted by the legislature.

When originating in the initiative process, a vote is known as an "initiative," "ballot measure" or "proposition."

Brief history of popular initiative

The initiative is only available in a certain minority of jurisdictions. It was included in the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1891, permitting a certain number of citizens to make a request to amend a constitutional article, or even to introduce a new article into the constitution. Right of initiative is also used at the cantonal and communal level in Switzerland. However, a citizen-proposed law cannot be passed in Switzerland at the national level if a majority of the people approve while a majority of the states disapprove.

Provision for the initiative was included in the 1922 constitution of the Irish Free State, but was hastily abolished when Republicans organised a drive to instigate a vote that would abolish the Oath of Allegiance. The initiative also formed part of the 1920 constitution of Estonia.

Initiative in the United States

In the United States the initiative is in use, at the level of state government, in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and is also in common use at the local and city government level. The initiative has been recognized in the U.S. since at least 1777 when provision was made for it by the first constitution of Georgia.

The modern U.S. system of initiative and referendum originated in the state of Oregon in 1902, when the state's legislators adopted it by an overwhelming majority. The "Oregon System," as it was at first known, subsequently spread to many other states, and became one of the signature reforms of the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s). Well known U.S. initiatives include various measures adopted by voters in states such as Washington, Oregon, California, Massachusetts and Alaska.

The first attempt to get National ballot initiatives occurred in 1907 when House Joint Resolution 44 was introduced by Rep. Elmer Fulton of Oklahoma. In 1977, both the Abourezk-Hatfield (National Voter Initiative) and Jagt Resolutions never got out of committee.


Common criticisms against the idea of direct democracy through ballot initiatives include:

  • It leads to ballot-box budgeting.
  • It leads to "endless gimmicks that diffuse accountability, confuse the public and produce thoroughly dysfunctional governance."[1]

Types of ballot measures

See also

External links