One of the first lessons you learn in American history is that our country is a democratic one and that our citizens have (or should have) a large amount of power in the running of our government and our nation in general. Voter Initiative and Voter Referendum are two ways citizens can exert their power over the government. Unfortunately there is no national voter initiative or referendum process and not every state has decided to allow their voters to practice it either. Even more depressing is that many citizens don’t even know what voter initiative is and how to use it to their advantage. The purpose of this article is to inform you, the reader, of the initiative and referendum processes and how to use it or fight for it if your state government doesn’t currently allow it.
As stated there is no federal Initiative process but 24 states have adopted the process for their residents. There are two forms of Initiative; Direct and Indirect. Direct Initiative allows residents to directly place proposed amendments (changes in the law) on the ballot for fellow voters to vote on. Indirect Initiative requires a voter to submit a proposal to the legislature and only if the legislature approved it is the proposed change put on the ballot to be voted on. Some states allow residents to counteract a failure to be approved by collecting signatures on a petition. If enough signatures are collected, the proposed amendment will be placed on the ballot despite the legislature’s decision.
It’s important to note that while less than half of the United States have a statewide Initiative process, many local government have them. If your state isn’t a voter initiative state, your city or town may have it. It is your responsibility as a voter to find out how much power you have in your area. In the event that your state doesn’t have voter Initiative, I recommend finding out how to go about changing that. As American citizens we should never refuse to fight for our rights as citizens and voters.
The Referendum process also has no national standing. However 49 states have adopted the Referendum in some way with the only exception being Delaware. As with the Initiative process, Referendum has two types, either Popular or Legislative. Popular Referendum allows voters to collect signatures on a petition to overturn laws enacted by the legislature. Legislative Referendum, on the other hand, is when the state or local legislature submits a proposal to the voters to approve or reject. Legislative Referendum is the one practiced in 49 states with Popular Referendum being practiced in only 24 states (not the same 24 with the Initiative process.)
Voter Initiative and Referendum are both important components in our democratic process. By allowing state governments to “get away” with not allowing us our voter power, we allow them to pass laws in a republic fashion rather than a democratic one. If all 50 states were to adopt both Initiative and Referendum, we would be in a better position to get the federal government to allow us the same right. Imagine what could be done if we had more control over what happens in Congress?