BISC serves as the nerve center of proactive and defensive ballot
initiative efforts. Since 1998, their efforts have been credited with
helping progressives catch up to the right-wing's use of ballot
initiatives as a political tool. BISC adds strategic value to the progressive movement in four steps: shaping the issue landscape; pooling research, resources and tactics; winning campaigns; building progressive infrastructure.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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