Ballot Law Update: 2011 Year in Review

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December 28, 2011

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By Tyler Millhouse

In 2011, 254 laws were proposed in 41 states affecting the initiative and referendum process, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. For comparison, a total of 258 law were proposed in 40 states during 2010.[1]

The Citizens in Charge Foundation (CICF), a non-profit that promotes initiative and referendum rights, identifies proposed laws which either ease or tighten restrictions on ballot initiatives. In 2011, CICF identified 61 laws that make getting a measure on the ballot more difficult. Of these 61, seven passed. CICF also identified 44 laws that make the process easier. Of these 44, four passed.[2]

Overall, 2011 proved to be an exciting year for ballot measure law with many significant legal developments and proposed laws. Notably, lawmakers proposed 37 laws in 16 states to institute processes for recalling government officials. In 2010, only 27 proposals in 11 states were forwarded. In addition, lawmakers proposed 35 laws in 13 states to establish an initiative and referendum process--almost equal to 2010 levels. Of this year's many proposals to expand I&R rights, some have been carried over to 2012, but none were approved. 24 states currently allow residents to place measures on the ballot via initiative petition. For specific details on major legal developments this year, see our 2011 Year in Review below.

The Ballot Law Update is released on the last Wednesday of each month. The first update for 2012 will be released on January 25, 2012. Stay tuned to the Tuesday Count for weekly ballot law news.

Recent news

California Prop. 13 lawsuit: California Proposition 13 (1978) amended the state constitution to, among other things, require a 2/3 vote of the Legislature in order to increase revenues via a change in state taxes. This requirement has shaped California politics ever since, attracting both high praise and sharp criticism. Now, over 30 years after taking effect, a lawsuit challenging the lawsuit has been filed, arguing that the measure constitutes a revision to the state constitution rather than an amendment. The former only requires approval by a majority of voters, while the latter must first be referred to voters by a 2/3 vote of both legislative chambers. In Livermore v. Waite, the California Supreme Court defined a constitutional revision as a "change in the basic plan of California government." The lawsuit was filed by Charles Young, a former chancellor of UCLA represented by retired 9th Circuit Judge William A. Norris. The case will be heard by the California Supreme Court.[3]

Virginia residency requirement challenge: On December 27, Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry (R) filed suit, challenging the state's circulator residency requirements. Although Virginia does not permit voters to initiate statewide ballot measures, a ruling in a similar case  has already had broader implications in the legal battle over residency requirements. On December 23, it was determined that Perry's campaign had failed to collect enough candidate petition signatures to place him on the ballot.[4][5]

  • Perry's complaint in the case can be found here.

Ballot Law Update: 2011 Year in Review


Major legal decisions in 2011

See also: All legal news and court actions covered in 2011

Major legal changes in 2011

See also: All approved and defeated bills in 2011

New laws

  • Utah Senate Bill 165 (2011): SB 165 changed the basis of Utah's signature requirements from the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election to the number of votes cast in the last presidential election. This will raise the number of signatures required. In addition, the bill bans electronic signatures for ballot initiatives.[29] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • Arizona House Bill 2304 (2011): HB 2304 altered the state's requirements for petition circulators, eased third-party primary access, and clarified laws regarding wearing political apparel at polling places. With respect to initiatives, the law repealed the state's unconstitutional circulator residency requirement. However, it replaced this requirement with a requirement that out-of-state circulators register with the state.[30] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • Florida House Bill 1355 (2011): HB 1355 contained extensive modifications to Florida's election laws. With respect to initiative and referendum, the bill cut the signature gathering period from 4 to 2 years. It also shortened the window for challenging legislatively-referred ballot questions.[31] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.

Notable vetoes

  • California Senate Bill 168 (2011): Vetoed (8/1/11)[32] SB 168 would have banned pay-per-signature in the State of California. Violation of the law would have constituted a misdemeanor offense. Current law does not prohibit the practice, but it does require that petition forms include a notice indicating that the circulator may or may not be a volunteer.[33]Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
  • California Senate Bill 448: Vetoed (9/6/2011) SB 448 would have required paid petition circulators to wear a badge indicating that they are a paid employee. (Volunteer workers are not required to wear a badge.) Prior to an Assembly amendment, the bill also required volunteer petitioners to wear badges indicating their volunteer status. In addition, the earlier version required the badges to identify where in California the circulator is registered to vote. While the earlier version did not require the circulator to be registered, unregistered circulators would have been identified as "NOT REGISTERED TO VOTE." The bill's sponsor was Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D).[34] [35] Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.

See also


  1. NCSLnet, "Initiative & Referendum Legislation," accessed December 28, 2011
  2. This information is based on the final edition (September 14, 2011) of the CICF "Afternoon I&R Legislation Update"
  3. LA Times, "Newton: Could Prop. 13 fall?," December 26, 2011
  4. Ballot Access News, "Rick Perry Sues Virginia Over Circulator Residency Requirement," December 27, 2011
  5. Ballot Access News, "Rick Perry’s Virginia Petition Doesn’t Have Enough Valid Signatures," December 23, 2011
  6. Seattle Post Intelligencer, "9th Circuit says R-71 petitions can be released," November 17, 2011
  7. Talking Points Memo, "Anti-Gay Marriage Groups Lose Another Battle To Keep Supporters Secret," November 29, 2011
  8. Landline Magazine, "Washington cities say ‘nay’ to ticket cameras," November 21, 2011
  9., "Court ruling throws 2012 elections into chaos," October 16, 2011
  10. Ballot Access News, "Ohio Faces Another Referendum on Election Law," October 16, 2011
  11. Florida Courier, "Path not taken for redistricting suits, voting rights," September 12, 2011
  12. Ballot Access News, "U.S. District Court Upholds Florida Initiative Telling Legislature that Redistricting Must be Non-Partisan," September 9, 2011
  13. Ballot Access News, "Ninth Circuit Upholds Solicitation on Public Sidewalks," September 17, 2011
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 ACLU Nebraska, Verified Complaint in Intervention, Citizens in Charge v. Gale, December 16, 2009
  15. 15.0 15.1 United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, Citizens in Charge v. Gale, Memorandum and Order, August 30, 2011
  16. United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, Nader v. Blackwell
  17. 17.0 17.1 United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, Bernbeck v. Gale, Memorandum and Order, August 30, 2011
  18. U.S. Supreme Court, Meyer v. Grant, June 6, 1988
  19. Ballot Access News, "Ohio Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Statewide Initiative Petition," August 12th, 2011
  20. 20.0 20.1 Seattle PI, "Judge blocks Wash. limit on recall contributions," July 15, 2011
  21. The News Tribune, "A key victory for Washingtonians' right to recall," July 17, 2011
  22. Metropolitan News-Enterprise, "C.A. Rejects Bid to Count Online Signature on Initiative Petition," July 5, 2011
  23. Ballot Access News, "California State Court of Appeals Construes Election Code to Bar Electronic Signatures on Petitions," July 1, 2011
  24. Ballot Access News, "Electronic Signatures on Petitions Case Argued in California State Court of Appeals," May 10, 2011
  25. Mercury News, "Attention, voters. You better start practicing your e-signature," May 7, 2010
  26. Ballot Access News, "U.S. District Court Judge Refuses to Strike Down California Residency Requirement for Circulators, on Standing Grounds," February 4, 2011
  27. Washington Office of the Secretary of State, Blog, "High court rejects challenge of campaign reporting law," February 22, 2011
  28. Ballot Access News, "Court rules signatures can be valid, even if illegible," March 22, 2011
  29. Utah Senate Bill 165, as enrolled
  30. Ballot Access News, "Arizona Bill, Improving Ballot Access and Making Other Changes, Passes House Judiciary Committee," February 10, 2011
  31. Tampa Bay Online, "State law limits citizens' ability to get amendments on ballot," May 24, 2011
  32. California Senate Bill 168, Bill Documents
  33. Senate Bill 168, Bill information
  34. California Assembly Bill 448, Bill History
  35. California Assembly Bill 481, Bill History