By Josh Altic
The first half of 2014 has seen a wide range of changes and attempted changes to ballot law across the nation, with some proposed laws seeking to expand the initiative and referendum process and others attempting to restrict it. For example, legislators in Georgia and eight other states proposed laws that sought to establish the power and process of initiative and referendum in state constitutions. Meanwhile, in Arizona, a controversial law proposed mandating that voters periodically reapprove any initiative or referendum that directs public expenditures or appropriations.
So far this year, state lawmakers have seen at least 113 laws concerning ballot measures during 2014's legislative sessions, of which 67 were carried over from 2013.
As of June 27, 2014, seven laws were approved and 33 were defeated.
This edition of the Ballot Law Update features a half-year roundup of laws, resolutions and bills concerning ballot measure and recall law. It highlights the laws that have been approved and defeated, as well as laws that could entirely change the dynamic of direct democracy on a statewide level.
The Ballot Law Update is released at the end of each month.
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Edited by Brittany Clingen
In Oregon and Washington D.C., the dust is still settling from the results of the 2014 election. Meanwhile, Phoenix is the latest locale to discuss potentially featuring a repeat topic on an upcoming ballot. Supporters are seeking to land pension reform on the ballot for the third time in as many years.
Oregon GMO measure officially defeated after recount, lawsuit:
After a record-breaking campaign, a painstaking recount and a lawsuit, Oregon's Measure 92 has been officially declared defeated. The measure, which sought to mandate the labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), set a new record for the most money raised by one side of a ballot measure campaign, with the opposing side raising over $20 million. It also became the most expensive measure in the history of the state, surpassing a defeated 2007 measure's record of $16 million by bringing in more than $32.1 million from support and opposition groups.
Because the measure was defeated by a mere 809 votes on election day, a recount was held, as the margin of defeat was less than the 0.2 percent threshold that automatically triggers a recount under Oregon law. As the recount neared its conclusion, it became clear that the margin of defeat was not going to change significantly. Supporters of the measure subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging the method used by elections officials to ensure signatures on ballot measure envelopes were not fraudulent. The lawsuit attempted to force officials to count 4,600 ballots that were disqualified because "signatures on the vote-by-mail envelopes didn’t match those on registration cards." The lawsuit also sought to prevent the certification of the election results. A judge decided not to halt the recount, and supporters ultimately conceded defeat. It marked the fourth time in three years that a GMO labeling measure was defeated at the ballot box, with similar measures receiving a thumbs-down from voters in California, Washington and Colorado.
California signature requirement threshold plummets:
Ballot measure experts speculate that California's 2016 ballot may have even more initiatives than usual due to the newly established and remarkably low signature requirements. In California, a state notorious for its robust ballots, the number of signatures needed to qualify a measure for the ballot is based on the total number of votes cast for the office of Governor. For initiated constitutional amendments, petitioners must collect signatures equal to 8 percent of the most recent gubernatorial vote. To place a statute or veto referendum on the ballot, signatures equal to 5 percent of this vote are required. Due to the especially low voter turnout - only 42.2 percent of registered voters cast ballots during the 2014 general election - the signature thresholds for ballot measures will be lower than they have been in the past several years. For example, in 2012 and 2014, a minimum of 504,760 valid signatures were required to land initiated state statutes on the ballot. That number will drop to just 370,000 for the next few years.
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