Citizen Blog

A century-old Nebraska rule for initiative qualification has been struck down as unconstitutional by US District Court Judge Joseph F. Bataillon. The provision required signatures from “5% of registered voters of each of the 2/5ths of the counties in the state.” This meant that petitions for ballot measures were required to be circulated in at least 38 of the 93 counties in the Cornhusker State.

The plaintiff in the case, Kent Bernbeck, brought the suit claiming that under the now defunct rule, rural voters counted for more than voters in more urban areas. 

“The court finds that the facts presented in this case show clearly that urban votes are diluted under the Nebraska Constitution,” the judge stated in his opinion.

Last week’s elections allowed voters across the country to decide issues important to them. But not in New Jersey, a state that lacks any process for citizens to petition initiatives onto the ballot or to refer laws passed by the state legislature to voters.

Jersey citizens are on the outside looking in at states that allow direct democracy, i.e. citizen-initiated measures. That might be one reason that less than one in three Garden State citizens turned out to vote in the mid-term election – setting an all-time record low.

Tuesday November 4, 2014 North Dakota voters rejected a legislatively referred constitutional amendment which would have placed new restrictions on the initiative process. Measure 4 would have allowed the state to stop any petition from being circulated that would appropriate funds directly or require the legislature to appropriate funds. The measure would also have required all initiatives with significant fiscal impact to be voted on at the general election. Like many legislative referred ballot questions this amendment had potential to significantly reduce citizen’s ability to propose legislation.
When voters in North Dakota went to the polls on Tuesday, Measure 4 was rejected with 56.59% (135,408 of 239,296) voting “No”.

2014 Election

Wed, Nov 5 2014 by Neal Hobson

November 4, 2014 has come and gone and with the election and unseating of many politicians, 146 ballot measures also were decided. The issues ranged from minimum wage hikes to marijuana legalization.

Ballotpedia has a comprehensive guide to all of the ballot measures that were up for a vote on Tuesday. http://ballotpedia.org/2014_ballot_measures

An ABC news report on the results of several well-publicized measures throughout the United States: Here

A group of direct democracy activists from Europe, Asia and South America has begun their “Big River to Democracy Tour” observing the U.S. mid-term elections and visiting with election officials, academics and initiative practitioners in four states – Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The group sponsored by Democracy International is in Kansas City today. Tomorrow, they will travel Little Rock, Arkansas, where Citizens in Charge Foundation President Paul Jacob, an Arkansas native, will be hosting the group for a Wednesday night dinner and then a full day of presentations on Thursday from those engaged in the five issues on the Arkansas ballot today.

The tour ends Sunday in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Across the country, voters will finish casting ballots tomorrow in a mid-term election that features 146 statewide issues.  This is the lowest number of statewide ballot measures since 1988, but it also marks the lowest number of citizen-initiated ballot questions since 1974. Of the 146 issues, only 35 were brought to voters by successful citizen petition efforts, the remaining 111 were referred by state legislatures.

North Dakotans will decide 8 ballot issues this November, the most the Roughrider State has seen since 1989, when the state legislature referred 8 measures, which all went down to defeat. This November, 4 of the measures were referred by the legislature and 4 others put on the ballot through citizen petitions. Another legislatively referred measure was voted on in June.

The state has a long history of placing multiple measures on the ballot, with voters casting votes on 470 ballot issues in North Dakota’s history (both citizen-initiated and legislature-referred). The record for the most measures on the ballot came in 1938, with 13 separate measures.

Gathering 155,000 signatures in 90 days on a petition is a tough ask, even for the most seasoned petitioners. In Oklahoma this is the reality, with only 3 of more than 24 statewide initiatives since 1998 making it to the ballot.


On Sunday, the state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, published an editorial entitled, “Oklahoma initiative petition process needs to change,” which called the state’s petition requirement “too steep.” The paper added, “Lawmakers should study this issue and come up with a lower threshold, one that doesn’t open the ballot to silliness but does give everyday citizens a reasonable chance to possibly effect change.”

In the last week, calls for citizens to have the right to initiative and referendum have been heard loud and clear in New Jersey and South Carolina.

In tackling the issue of marijuana legalization, New Jersey Star Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine longs for a way voters can decide, writing “if only we had I&R here in New Jersey.”

He’s not sure Colorado voters got it right in legalizing pot, but notes, “Polls show Coloradans are evenly divided on legalization - as are New Jersey voters. The difference is that there they can gather signatures to reverse it if they so desire. Here we’re stuck with whatever the politicians hand us.”

Last weekend, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1253, the so-called “Ballot Measure Transparency Act,” into law.

Sponsored by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, the legislation requires the Secretary of State to post the top 10 donors to committees supporting or opposing ballot measures on the Internet, gives proponents 30 additional days to gather signatures (from the current 150 days to 180 days), provides a 30-day public comment period after which proponents can make changes to their initiative proposal without having to re-start the process, and also allows proponents to withdraw their initiative should they reach some compromise with the legislature.

Just one California

Mon, Sep 15 2014 by Neal Hobson

It seems for now, California will have to stay as a singular state.

Venture capitalist Tim Draper’s multi-million dollar “Six Californias” initiative failed to gather enough valid signatures, according to the California Secretary of State. The initiative would have begun the process to create six separate states out of California, giving 38 million Californians new, smaller state governments and economies.

Draper contests the findings of the Secretary of State, however. 

“Six Californias collected more than enough signatures to place the initiative on the November 2016 ballot and we are confident that a full check of the signatures would confirm that fact,” said Draper in a statement.

On Monday, six additional initiative petitions were submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State for signature validation. 

However, four of those petitions are already being withdrawn after Governor John Hickenlooper and US Congressman Jared Polis, supporting of two measures “to restrict oil and gas operations,” reached an agreement with supporters of two industry-backed measures. The agreement means that all four initiatives concerning regulation of the oil and natural gas industries will not go on the ballot.

Michigan’s State Board of Canvassers voted not to certify an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage for placement on this November’s election ballot.

The group Raise Michigan turned in 318,425 signatures on petitions, needing 258,088 to be verified as those of registered voters in the Wolverine State.  The group just edged over that goal under the scrutiny of the Secretary of State’s office with 259,756 verified signatures, just 1,578 more than necessary.

Even after the petition submission deadline dates for many states have passed, efforts are underway to collect signatures for the 2015 ballot and beyond.  In Ohio, a green energy initiative was given the go-ahead to begin gathering signatures to place a series of clean energy proposals on the ballot in 2015.

Now that the Ohio Ballot Board has approved the language, the group Yes for Ohio’s Energy Future needs to collect at least 385,000 verified voter signatures in the Buckeye State to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot next year.  The proposed amendment would spend $1.3 billion each year improving infrastructure and developing  clean energy sources such as geothermal and solar.

For citizens of the Natural State, a natural medicine won’t appear on the ballot this November.  Arkansans for Compassionate Care decided not to turn in signatures for a proposed medical marijuana ballot measure as it had not collected enough by yesterday’s deadline. The group announced gathering just over 50,000 signatures, but needed 62,507 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Campaign director Melissa Fults said the group would try again for the 2016 election.