initiative process

Few things have defined California’s politics more than the three election reforms championed by the state’s 23rd governor – the initiative, the referendum and the recall. Hiram Johnson’s system of direct democracy, used early and often in California since 1911, was designed to place power in the hands of “the people.”

That era’s “progressives” believed voters needed the power to circumvent legislators, who were beholden to railroad barons and other special interests. Johnson said the reforms “may prevent the misuse of the power temporarily centralized in the Legislature” and will help control “weak officials.”

In his latest book, “Unstoppable,” consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader lauds Citizens in Charge as a “convergent group” bringing people together from across the political spectrum.

In the book, Nader presents 25 reform ideas that cannot be stopped, one of which is to “spread the initiative, referendum and recall to every state and municipality.”

Urging “liberals and conservatives” to “look straight at the reforms that are needed to give more choices for the voters in a competitive democracy,” Nader writes that “Citizens in Charge” is “already at work on this objective.”


I have a riddle for you. When gathering signatures to put an initiative on the ballot, which would require more signatures? 1. A petition that covers Benton County. 2. A petition that covers the City of Corvallis?

Here are some not so helpful clues:

•  The City of Corvallis sits within Benton County.

•  More people live in Benton County than the city of Corvallis.

•  The petition for Benton County affects more voters.

• The City of Corvallis occupies less land than Benton County.

Recently, Benton County Clerk, James Morales said that a group needs 2,171 signatures to place their measure on the Benton County November ballot.

Critics launched attacks Friday on two separate fronts against the Count My Vote ballot initiative, which seeks to dump political-party caucuses and conventions for a direct primary.

First, the Senate voted 22-4 to approve and send to the House SB54 that would nullify the initiative as long as parties tweak their caucus and convention system.

Second, an opposition group filed a complaint with the lieutenant governor seeking to disqualify most of the 100,000 signatures collected so far by Count My Vote. It alleged numerous violations, including lying to voters about what they are signing.

Read More: here

California has a rich tradition of citizens taking control through the initiative process. Nothing should be done to diminish that.

However, the Public Policy Institute of California has released an interesting report on possible reforms of the process. The 20-page report released in October concludes with three proposals:

• Connect the legislative and initiative processes. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed by the institute supported the idea of having initiative sponsors meet with legislators to seek compromises before an issue is placed on the ballot.

Read More: here.

Californians value the ballot initiative and want it to remain as a check on a political system they mistrust, but voters support major reforms in the process, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.

The poll found that voters support several changes, including giving the Legislature an opportunity to respond to proposed initiatives and reach agreement with their sponsors, beefing up financial disclosure requirements for those engaged in ballot measure campaigns, increasing the role of volunteers in collecting initiative petition signatures, and placing time limits on ballot measures so that they can be revisited.

State labor unions are once again trying to twist California’s century-old initiative process to work in their favor by going after paid signature collectors.

They’re backing AB 857, which would require at least 20 percent of signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the state ballot to be collected by unpaid individuals. Professional petition firms must register with the secretary of state and comply with all sorts of new regulations, while their petitions must be of a different color and carry a disclaimer.

Read More: here

Senate Bill 154 continued its march through the Oregon legislature this week, despite the protestations of prominent petition-rights supporters and citizen groups.  The bill moved via a party-line vote of 16-14 in the Senate, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing the legislation.

SB 154 requires petition firms to register with the Secretary of State and also to sign a statement affirming that the firms will not break the law. The bill also forces initiative campaigns to have two representatives swear that the campaign has broken no law. The problem is that petition companies and initiative sponsors can then be prosecuted on a felony charge of “false swearing” if someone working for them does anything wrong, even through an innocent mistake.

Washington’s Initiative 517 is well on its way through the Legislature and recently earned some new allies. An unlikely supporter, perhaps, is attorney Stonewall Jackson Bird, who has never supported an initiative sponsored by Tim Eyman.

Bird has a special interest in I-517 though, as one of its provisions requires a vote on any initiative that receives the required number of verified signatures, stopping any legal actions that would keep it off the ballot. A previous local initiative that Bird championed, dealing with corporate personhood, was struck down in court before voters had a chance to weigh in at the ballot box.

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Previous efforts to get pro-initiative measures on the ballot in Washington have been dodgy at best. The last one to make it through with a full Senate vote was 19 years ago in 1994. This term seems to be different with Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517 and other proposals progressing through committee and being divvied up into 4 easily-digested bills.

The ease with which I-517 has progressed has something to do with the new Senate majority. Chairwoman Pam Roach (R-Auburn) has been a supporter of I-517 and pushed for its passage out of committee.

Taking advantage of last year’s petition signature scandal, some legislators have proposed to tighten up the procedure by which citizens can initiate laws, refer acts of the Legislature and amend the North Dakota Constitution.

New provisions proposed in House Concurrent Resolution 3011 include:

Ӣ Require that measures costing more than $20 million be submitted in a general election.

Ӣ Outlaw payment to petition circulators for gathering signatures.

Ӣ Raise the number of signatures for the referral and initiative from 13,000 to 18,000.

Ӣ Require that a minimum number of signatures be obtained in at least 27 counties.

The Second House Amendment Committee, a new group formed by initiative rights activists in Nebraska, filed an initiative constitutional amendment this week to lower the signature requirements for qualifying citizen initiatives. The group also filed a campaign finance registration, which is required once at least $5,000 has been raised by a ballot committee.

“I am confident that with the dedication of our volunteers and the commitment I have secured from people who are friends to petition rights, this issue will be on the November ballot,” committee member Kent Bernbeck told reporters.

Moving On to California

Wed, Aug 12 2009 by Staff

Here at Citizens in Charge Foundation we are very happy that our recently departed Communications Director Bettina Inclan has started a great new endeavor in California.  While we were sad to see her go, she will be doing great work on the West Coast.  Check out a few news articles on her new adventure here, here and

As pundits continue to look at the value of the ballot initative process its refreshing to get a real prespective, that of the voter. Here is a comment from a reader of Paul Jacob’s Sunday column “Do California politicians have too little power?”

Political pundits are always trying to figure out what is “wrong” with things. They attempt to point the finger at what they don’t like to explain their point of view is correct.

It is no secret many people upset with the results of the California’s most recent ballot measures and are blaming the process. We all know “spendaholic” politicians and activists don’t like the initiative process because they can’t use taxpayer funds with unlimited discretion.