Ballot Initiative Reform


Ballot initiatives have the ability to allow citizens to put forward great legislation that moves their state forward, as has been the case in Maine and Arizona where public campaign financing was enacted by ballot initiative.  However, corporate special interests and right-wing operatives have successfully used ballot initiatives as a way to push regressive policies in states where they don't even live.  And they often use tactics which subvert the will of the people instead of giving voice to it.   Ballot measures are also a favorite vehicle for conservatives trying to push wedge issues.

In order for ballot initiative to be a tool of reform and not an avenue for corporate control, it is important that states regulate the process effectively.   A few basic reforms can go a long way in making sure ballot initiatives reflect the popular will and don't just ride through on a wave of corporate cash. 

  • In some instances, signature gatherers are paid per signature, which opens the door to fraud.  Signature gatherers should be paid by the hour if at all, and all gatherers should be residents of the state.
  • Many petition signers are misinformed about what the measure would do - backers of a measure to ban affirmative action have claimed that their measure would "prevent discrimination on the basis of race."  States should require that the text of the ballot measure accurately describe the law being proposed.
  • Because of the confusion surrounding many ballot measures, states should develop voter guides with each measures text and a plain language description of the measures effect.

Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

Ballot Initiative Strategy Center -

Center for Policy Alternatives - Ballot Initiative Reform

Initiative and Referendum Institute

Reforming the Ballot Initiative Process: Making Direct Democracy Work

Direct democracy through popular intiatives and referenda began a century ago as a grassroots, progressive reform aimed at circumventing corrupt legislatures and increasing civic involvement.  The long history of this reform indicates that in the whole this experiment in direct popular participation in the legislative process has been successful as an avenue for passing populist policies that maintains the favor of the public over time.  However, throughout this history there have also been attempts, sometimes successful, to manipulate the process and the electorate into passing legislation that would not garner majority support had voters possessed an accurate conception of its content and effect.