MIDDLETON, Wis. , Aug. 3, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — New research from Ballotpedia on legislation affecting state initiative, referendum, and recall processes over the last five years has found a consistent trend: lawmakers are making it tougher for citizens to propose and approve ballot measures (also referred to as initiatives and referendums).
In the five-year span from 2018 to 2023, states approved 42 bills or resolutions that made the initiative, referendum, and recall processes more difficult–an average of seven per year.
So far this year, five such bills have been approved.
A total of 1,787 pieces of legislation related to initiative, referendum, and recall were introduced during this period. Legislatures passed 194 of those bills and resolutions, including 13 to make processes less difficult. Changes that make the process easier mean fewer resources, such as spending and travel, are required. Changes that make the process harder mean more resources are required to collect signatures and pass a ballot measure. Some of these changes can seem small or technical, such as allowing people to sign petitions with their initials or full name, which decreases the risk that signatures will be rejected. Others can have larger effects on average, such as changing the vote threshold or the number of signatures required for an initiative.
According to Ballotpedia’s Managing Editor for Ballot Measures, Ryan Byrne, the data shows that states adding new restrictions on the initiative and referendum process is not a new development but part of a multi-year trend.
Byrne said, “Initiative and referendum topics have fluctuated over time. During the 1980s and 1990s, conservative organizations petitioned many issues to the ballot, including those related to tax limits, term limits, and affirmative action.”
Highlights from the report include:
- From 2018 to 2023, 1,787 pieces of legislation related to initiative, referendum, and recall were introduced in state legislatures. 194 of those were passed.
- Eighteen of those that legislators passed were constitutional amendments requiring voter ratification. Since 2018, voters have decided eight legislatively referred amendments to make the process more difficult. Voters approved three (37.5%) and defeated five (62.5%).
- From 2018 to 2022, 42 (21.9%) pieces of legislation made initiative, referendum, and recall processes more difficult to use. Thirteen (6.8%) changes made citizen-initiated measure or recall processes easier to use, including three in 2023. Two of those three were in response to judicial rulings.
- Of the 42 bills or resolutions that made the initiative, referendum, and recall processes more difficult, 37 (88.1%) had Republican majorities in state legislatures and four (9.5%) had Democratic majorities. One (2.4%) passed with bipartisan support.
- From 2018 to 2023, South Dakota passed the most pieces of legislation (10) that made or would make the ballot initiative process more difficult. The other states that passed more than two such bills were Arizona (six), Arkansas (five), and Florida (five). The states that have passed the most bills or resolutions making the process easier are Maine and Oregon, each with two pieces of legislation.
Ballotpedia – the encyclopedia of American politics – is America’s most trusted source of unbiased information on politics, elections, and policy. Founded in 2007, Ballotpedia has grown from a small group of dedicated volunteers to an essential resource for voters, media, and researchers. Ballotpedia is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the public interest in creating an educated, engaged electorate, and building a strong, healthy democracy. For free access to more than 410,000 professionally authored articles, visit Ballotpedia.org.
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