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Initiative Details

An initiative (also known as a popular or citizens' initiative) is a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a public vote (plebiscite).


The initiative may take the form of a direct initiative or an indirect initiative. In a direct initiative, a measure is put directly to a vote after being submitted by a petition. In an indirect initiative, a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then put to a popular vote only if not enacted by the legislature. If it originates with the legislature it is a “referendum” and not an initiative.  An initiative may be called a "ballot measure", "initiative measure", or "proposition".


The vote may be on a proposed statute, constitutional amendment, charter amendment or local ordinance, or to simply oblige the executive or legislature to consider the subject by submitting it to the order of the day. It is a form of direct democracy.


Generally, the process includes these steps:

(1) preliminary filing of a proposed petition with a designated state official;

(2) review of the petition for conformance with statutory requirements and, in several states, a review of the language of the proposal;

(3) preparation of a ballot title and summary;

(4) circulation of the petition to obtain the required number of signatures of registered voters, usually a percentage of the votes cast for a statewide office in the preceding general election; and

(5) submission of the petitions to the state elections official, who must verify the number of signatures.


If enough valid signatures are obtained, the question goes on the ballot or, in states with the indirect process, is sent to the legislature. Once an initiative is on the ballot, the general requirement for passage is a majority vote.


The modern U.S. system of initiative and referendum originated in the state of South Dakota. South Dakota adopted initiative and referendum in 1898 by a vote of 23,816 to 16,483. Oregon was the second state to adopt and did so in 1902, when the state's legislators adopted it by an overwhelming majority. The "Oregon System", as it was at first known, subsequently spread to many other states, and became one of the signature reforms of the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s).


States who allow initiative include: AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, FL, ID, IL, ME, MA, MI, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, ND, OH, OK, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY, and DC.




Extracts and information taken from: Wikipedia October 18, 2013; and, Initiative and Referendum Institute of Southern California. (The Hawaii Senate Minority Research Office does not guarantee the accuracy of the historical information.)





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