Initiative and Referendum

Initiatives and referendums are one of this country’s forms of direct democracy. There is no national initiative or referendum process in the United States, but they are allowed at the state and local levels. An initiative allows citizens to propose laws, by petition, to be placed on the ballot. A referendum allows citizens to reject laws or ordinances proposed by the state legislature or city council. The initiative process is used much more frequently than the referendum process and is considered by many the more important and powerful of the two processes.

Twenty four states have some form of initiative process and 49 states allow referenda. Hundreds of cities and counties have adopted Initiative and Popular Referendum including Washington, DC; New York City and Los Angeles, California.

Afterdecades of declining use, ballot measures began to appear with greater frequency in the early 1970s, perhaps spurred by 60s activism, and their use has steadily increased since then. Some of the most popular issues for ballot initiatives have been tax relief, zoning, environmental policy, and protesting federal military policy and foreign regimes.


Initiative 125 – Montana

Montana had a ban on corporate contributions to ballot issue campaigns until 1976, when it was thrown out by the courts. In 1996, however, Montana voters approved Initiative I-125, reinstating the ban, with 52% of the vote.

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