Direct Democracy Home
WHAT IS AN INITIATIVE ? TOP
The initiative is a method whereby a certain percentage of the electorate may petition the people or the government to have a proposed amendment to the state constitution or a proposed statute or statute change to the Revised Code of Washington put on the ballot for a vote of the state’s electorate.
TYPES OF INITIATIVES
There are two common forms of initiative, a direct initiative, and an indirect initiative.
The direct initiative refers to the method in which the issue goes on the ballot, automatically after the required number of signatures of registered voters are collected.
The indirect initiative in contrast is submitted to the legislature after the requisite number of signatures are collected. The Legislature then has a given period of time to either approve or reject the measure. If the Legislature fails to pass the proposal, or if it adopts a significantly amended version, the proposed statute in its original form is placed on the ballot, sometimes along with any legislatively approved variation.
HISTORY OF INITIATIVES
The initiative and referendum have venerable historical roots. In Switzerland, for example, these practices date back to the Middle Ages, and since the middle of the nineteenth century, many major laws have been adopted through direct democracy. Use of referendums is on the rise worldwide, with recent activity on every continent except Antarctica. The United States is one of the few major democracies not to have held a national referendum. However, ballot propositions have grown in importance in the states and addressed such controversial subjects as tax or governmental spending limitations, same-sex marriage, marijuana use, civil unions, the death penalty, and educational policy including charter schools and affirmative action, and a variety of contentious social issues. Back to Top
POLITICAL REALITY OF INITIATIVES
The Importance of Money.
The romantic vision of direct democracy is that it is a tool used by ordinary citizens to take control of government away from special interests. Although it is not clear whether that picture was ever entirely accurate, the modem concern is that the initiative process is dominated by monied interests and is merely another avenue for the wealthy to unduly influence public policy. In 1998, $400 million was spent nationwide on ballot questions, compared to $326 million spent in the presidential campaign in 2000. "In 2004 , gambling interests spent $90 million in California on two propositions alone, roughly a quarter of what George W. Bush and John Kerry each spent on their presidential campaigns.?"
One substantial expense for initiative proponents is money spent to qualify a question for the ballot. It often requires hundreds of thousands of signatures to trigger a direct initiative or popular referendum. Well-heeled interests have a great advantage at this stage because states may not prohibit them from paying petition circulators.in California, circulating petitions can cost $2-3 million per ballot proposition," and some firms will offer money-back guarantees if they are paid enough.
In short, money is a sufficient condition for ballot access. Even if the outcome of any vote on a ballot question mirrors the preference of the median voter, the dominance of money at the qualification stage means that groups with funds will determine which issues are placed before the people.
Workshop Initiatives Currently Filed and In Progress:
STATE OF WASHINGTON
CITY OF SEATTLE
¨ Transportation Authority (Currently Under Review by King County 04-10-2013)