Citizen Initiative Overview
In political terminology, the initiative is a process that enables citizens to bypass their state legislature by placing proposed statutes and, in some states, constitutional amendments on the ballot. The first state to adopt the initiative was South Dakota in 1898. Since then, 23 other states have included the initiative process in their constitutions, the most recent being Mississippi in 1992. That makes a total of 24 states with an initiative process.
There are two types of initiatives: direct and indirect. In the direct process, proposals that qualify go directly on the ballot. In the indirect process, the proposal is submitted to the legislature. The legislature can approve the proposed measure, or a substantially similar one, in which case it is unnecessary for the measure to go on the ballot for voters to consider. Procedures vary from state to state, but in general if the legislature has not adopted the proposal, the initiative question goes on the ballot. In some states with the indirect process, the legislature may submit a competing measure that appears on the ballot along with the original proposal.
No two states have exactly the same requirements for qualifying initiatives to be placed on the ballot. Generally, however, the process includes these steps:
- preliminary filing of a proposed petition with a designated state official;
- review of the petition for conformance with statutory requirements and, in several states, a review of the language of the proposal;
- preparation of a ballot title and summary;
- circulation of the petition to obtain the required number of signatures of registered voters, usually a percentage of the votes cast for a statewide office in the preceding general election; and
- submission of the petitions to the state elections official, who must verify the number of signatures.
If enough valid signatures are obtained, the question goes on the ballot or, in states with the indirect process, is sent to the legislature. Once an initiative is on the ballot, the general requirement for passage is a majority vote, though there are exceptions.