Lacking Initiative

Congressional Quarterly sees a trend against ballot initiatives: Ordinarily this would be a big year for ballot initiatives with the presidential campaign dominating the headlines ...
by | May 19, 2008

Congressional Quarterly sees a trend against ballot initiatives:

Ordinarily this would be a big year for ballot initiatives with the presidential campaign dominating the headlines and emotionally charged issues now convulsing our politics, from the Iraq War to gasoline prices and housing, to last week's decision from the California Supreme Court to strike down a prior state initiative banning gay marriage.

Instead, the number of initiatives scheduled for state ballots so far this year -- just 13 -- is far below the count in other presidential election years and continues a downward trend from the peak of 87 in 1996.

Note that this article is only talking about "ballot initiatives," not the broader group of "ballot measures." Ballot measures also include things like state constitutional amendments submitted for a public vote by the legislature, while initiatives only originate from citizen petitions.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says that over 300 ballot measures are under consideration for November 2008. Far more than 13 already have won a spot on the ballot.

So why is the citizen initiative going out of vogue? CQ makes a prescient point:

Although 24 states permit initiatives, many legislatures don't like them because they short-circuit the usual lawmaking process and can wreak havoc with state budgets if, for instance, they mandate new programs or tax cuts. Some states have imposed ever-stricter requirements for initiatives.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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