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October 5, 2010

The Economy Plays a Role in 2010 Ballot Initiatives

A limping economy has contributed to a relatively small number of ballot measures on this year’s ballot.

DENVER- Why are there so few ballot  initiatives this year? The economy. The lingering effects of the recession have kept down the number of measures popping up on ballots through voter petitions. 

In 36 states, 155 measures have qualified for the November ballot, and another 24 measures already have appeared on primary and special election ballots.

Twenty-four states allow voters to petition to place measures on the ballot. In these states, the total number of initiatives has topped out at 42. You have to rewind to 1986--when there were just 38--to find a year that had fewer citizen initiatives on the November ballot. Typically, the total number of statewide ballot measures ends up in the neighborhood of 200, with about half of them citizen initiatives.

“The idea that a band of dedicated citizens qualifies initiatives to the ballot by organizing volunteers to canvass their neighborhoods, churches and workplaces for petition signatures is a romanticized view of the process," says Jennie Drage Bowser, NCSL's ballot measures expert. "The reality is that qualifying a ballot initiative is an expensive proposition, and given the sour economy this year, fewer campaigns were able to raise the funds to get to the ballot than usual.”

Voters will face more than just the 42 citizen initiatives on the ballot. Legislatures have referred more than 100 measures for citizens to decide. NCSL is tracking the ballot measures that are taking center stage in many states.

The economy is a common theme. Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Virginia all have budget and savings initiatives. Other states are looking at new ways to raise revenue. Measures in California and Georgia would raise taxes and fees, while the opposite is happening in Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana and Washington where tax cutting proposals are on the ballot.

Major changes to the legislative institution are being considered in five states, and voters will decide elections and redistricting measures in California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina and Oklahoma. There are a variety of other topics ranging from health reform--Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma--to overturning a ban on smoking in South Dakota, repealing the sales tax on alcohol in Massachusetts and legalizing marijuana for recreational use in California.

NCSL’s Prop*50 blog and StateVote 2010 website have the latest on ballot measures news from across the country. On Election Night, both of these sites will be the first place reporters turn to get the latest ballot measure and election results.

For a look at all of the 2010 ballot measures, visit NCSL’s website.


NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.