Single-subject rules require that an initiative contain only one issue or subject. The initiative can only address one question.
These states have a single-subject rule in their I&R laws:
- Alaska (Alaska Stat. 15.45.040)
- Arizona (Const. Art. XXI, Sec.1 & Const. Art. IV, Pt. 2, Sec. 13)
- California (Const. Art. II, Sec. 8 (d))
- Colorado (Const. Art. V, Sec. 1 (5.5) and Colo. Rev. Stat. 1-40-106.5)
- Florida (Const. Art. XI Sec. 3)
- Missouri (Const. Art. III Sec. 50)
- Nebraska (Const. Art. III sec. 2)
- Nevada (N.R.S. 295.009)
- Ohio (O.R.C. 3519.01)
- Oregon (Const. Art. IV sec. 1 (2)(d))
- Wyoming (Wyo. Stat. 22-24-105 (a)).
Arguments in favor
Supporters of imposing a single-subject requirement on initiatives see its advantages as:
- Initiatives that address only one subject are easier for voters to understand.
- It allows voters to express a clear intent on a single issue.
- It prevents a situation arising where a single initiative is placed on the ballot that includes a provision that is very popular with voters along with an unrelated provision that an initiative proponent cares about, but about which voters care little, are neutral or opposed.
For example, in 1984, the Florida Supreme Court wrote:
- "This (single subject) requirement avoids voters having to accept part of an initiative proposal, which they oppose in order to obtain a change in the
constitution, which they support. An initiative proposal with multiple subjects, in which the public has had no representative interest in drafting, places voters with different views on the subjects contained in the proposal in the position of having to choose which subject they feel most strongly about."
Those who criticize single-subject rules see its disadvantages as being:
- The rule can be so strictly enforced that only the narrowest of subjects can make it on the ballot.
- Activists may have to submit several different petitions to change one section of law, substantially increasing the cost of petitioning government.
- The existence of a single-subject rule can lead to frivolous or blocking lawsuits against initiatives, thus making the process of qualifying initiatives for the ballot more cumbersome and expensive.
Relevant court cases
- Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 v. State of Washington. Invalidated Washington Initiative 695 (1999).
- Armatta v. Kitzhaber. In this 1998 decision, the Oregon Supreme Court invalidated Oregon Ballot Measure 40 (1996) on single-subject grounds.
- California Trial Lawyers Association v. Eu. This lawsuit pre-emptively struck the proposed "Insurance Cost Control Initiative" of 1988 from the California ballot on single-subject grounds.
- Campbell v. Buckley. An unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Colorado's single-subject rule.
- United Gamefowl Breeders v. Nixon. Unsuccessful effort to invalidate the Missouri Cockfighting Initiative (1998) on single-subject grounds.
- See also: 2010 ballot measure litigation
- On June 29, 2010, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge planned to hear arguments surrounding a measure on Arizona's general election ballot that would extend the right of Arizonans to use a secret ballot in union organizing votes. Arguments heard will be regarding a lawsuit filed by a labor union that argues that the measure violates Arizona's "single-subject rule." The rule states that constitutional ballot measures should be limited to one question. The labor union that filed the lawsuit wants the measure off of the ballot.
- A Siskiyou County Measure A (November), the "City of Mt. Shasta Community Water Rights and Self-Government Ordinance", was removed from the ballot by Siskiyou County Clerk Colleen Setzer on August 12. She said she was removing it "due to alleged procedural errors and violations of elections code, including a changing of initiative language and improper filing of documents and fees." In addition to a procedural dispute about who the appropriate election official was with whom to file the initiative language before circulation, Siskiyou County claimed in its court filings that Measure A violated the single-subject rule.
- A group of unions filed suit in San Francisco Superior Court in August to try to keep the San Francisco Pension Reform Measure, Proposition B off the November ballot. The lawsuit asserted a variety of different reasons to keep Proposition B off the ballot, including the claim that Proposition B violates the single-subject rule.
- Initiatives and the New Single-Subject Rule, by Daniel Lowenstein, in Election Law Journal, 2002.
- NCSL explanation of the single-subject rule
- Ending court protection of voters from the initiative process, Richard Hasen, in the Yale Law Journal, November 2006.
- New judicial resistance to direct democracy, Kenneth Miller, August 2002.