Letting the Voters Decide: Initiatives and Referendums around the Country Will Give Voters Plenty to Think about This November

By Bowser, Jennifer Drage | State Legislatures, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Letting the Voters Decide: Initiatives and Referendums around the Country Will Give Voters Plenty to Think about This November


Bowser, Jennifer Drage, State Legislatures


It's still too early to say definitively what will be on the ballot this fall in the 24 initiative states, but at least 28 initiative measures had qualified at press time, as well as more than 80 measures referred to the ballot by legislatures. Many more measures are still circulating or pending certification.

Election reform is probably the most common issue voters will face in November. They'll have to decide not only on altering election procedures, but also campaign finance, term limits and changing the initiative process itself. The people will have their say on a host of other issues--health care, taxes, drug policy, transportation, criminal justice, labor and employment, and environment and natural resources.

Alaskans were to consider a measure in their Aug. 27 primary that would establish preferential voting (also called instant run-off voting) for legislative, presidential and congressional races. Instant run-off is used in some local elections, but is not currently used at the state level in the United States.

California voters will decide on allowing voter registrations on Election Day. Already practiced in six states, same-day registration is believed by many to be the single most effective reform when it comes to increasing voter turnout.

An unusual Washington initiative would require candidates for most public offices to take the assessment test that the state administers to all 10th graders. Test results would be published in the voter information pamphlet.

In several states, legislatures have referred election issues to the ballot. In New Mexico, voters will consider restoring the right to vote to felons who have satisfied the conditions of their sentence. A Wyoming proposal is a direct response to what happened in Florida in 2000-it would permit the Legislature to call a special session to resolve a dispute or challenge to determine the presidential electors. And an Arkansas proposal would repeal the requirement that ballots be traceable to the voter, thus awarding residents the right to a secret vote.

Voters in at least three states will consider changes to how their state's initiative process works. In Florida, voters will consider a constitutional amendment referred by the Legislature that would require economic impact statements for all initiatives that qualify for the ballot. Twelve of the 24 initiative states have similar requirements.

The Montana Legislature wants voters to decide if the signature requirements to qualify an initiative should be increased. Oklahoma lawmakers are asking if a new, higher signature threshold should apply to initiatives that relate to wildlife. Restricting the use of the initiative process for wildlife measures has become a trend. In 2000, Alaska and Arizona voters said no to referendums that would have curtailed wildlife initiatives. Utah voters decided they wanted such a measure in 1998. A circulating measure in Oregon would ban payment per signature for initiative circulators.

The term limits movement is clearly running out of steam. Although three states will consider the issue, two of them (Colorado and Missouri) would loosen limits.

The only measure still alive that would impose limits on legislators is in Idaho where lawmakers repealed them earlier this year. Idaho's term limits, passed by voters in 1994, were in statute, so the Legislature was able to abolish them without a popular vote. Now, however, a popular referendum has qualified for the November ballot that gives voters a chance to override the Legislature's action and reimpose limits.

Oregon narrowly missed a chaotic situation when a term limits initiative failed to qualify for the ballot. After the state's Supreme Court struck down a term limits law earlier this year, proponents began circulating a measure to re-establish the limits on members of the legislature. …

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