History of Initiative & Referendum in Michigan
How Michigan gained the I&R process
Agitation for initiative and referendum in Michigan started with the formation of the state's Direct Legislation Club in 1895 by George F. Sherman and David Inglis, both Detroit physicians. Inglis was 45 years old, a distinguished professor at the Detroit Medical College. Sherman and Inglis led I&R efforts in Michigan for over a decade without success, despite support from the noted reformer, Detroit mayor, and later Michigan governor Hazen S. Pingree. In 1900 S. D. Williams of Battle Creek cited the legislature's Republican majority as the major obstacle.
The reformers won passage of an I&R amendment at the state constitutional convention of 1907. The voters ratified it in 1908, but the victory turned out to be hollow. The amendment proved so restrictive that citizens were unable to place a single initiative on the ballot.
Michigan I&R advocates resumed lobbying the legislature for a better amendment and gained the support of Governor Chase S. Osborn, a Progressive elected in 1910. The legislature rejected Osborn's attempts, but relented in 1913 during the administration of Governor Ferris, another I&R supporter.
Under the new provisions, it took 39,000 signatures to put a constitutional amendment initiative on the 1914 ballot.
The first two initiatives that won voter approval were on the ballot in 1932: a measure to establish a liquor control commission passed overwhelmingly, and an amendment to limit property taxes won 51.1 percent of the vote.
In 1938, voters passed an amendment specifying that gas and vehicle weight tax money must be used for roads and streets; the following year, in an April special election, they approved a system for the nonpartisan election of judges. In 1946, voters enacted an initiative to ensure that part of the state's sales tax revenues were returned to the municipalities; in 1948, they modified the property tax limitation.
Initiatives after 1963
The initiative for which Michigan is most famous is the "Bottle Bill", approved by a two to one margin in 1976, which put a 10-cent deposit on bottles and cans.
In 1998, the voters rejected a physician-assisted suicide initiative and in 2000 defeated a school voucher initiative that was sponsored by Amway founder Dick DeVos.
- 1980-2004 Ballot Question Statistics, an 84-page report primarily focusing on campaign expenditures, prepared by the Michigan Secretary of State.
- History of Michigan I&R prepared by the Michigan Secretary of State.
- Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a respected non-partisan organization, analysis of Michigan ballot measures
This article is 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 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
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