Threats and Restrictions

The Initiative process has been used throughout its history as a tool for the people to utilize to reign in government when it has become too powerful and when government refuses to deal with the issues supported by the people. Since the end result of most initiatives, especially those that reign in government, has been to limit the government’s power, elected officials have taken offense.

Circulation Periods

Petition sponsors need ample time to collect the tens of thousands of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. Short circulation periods hurt the ability of petition sponsors to make the ballot, and make it almost impossible for grassroots volunteer efforts to qualify. States should have ample circulation periods - at least nine months - to allow petition sponsors an opportunity to qualify for the ballot.

Different Voting Rules

Different voting schemes are used for legislation versus initiatives. In addition to placing additional qualifications on persons seeking to use the initiative process, several states have also imposed unique voting schemes on initiatives; thereby making it more difficult for the people to successfully enact their proposals.

Pay-Per-Signature Bans

Several states –including Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming – ban or restrict paying people who collect signatures on a ballot initiative, referendum or recall petition based on the number of signatures they collect. Payment-per-signature allows citizens greater certainty in judging the cost of a petition effort. Moreover, in states that have passed such bans, the cost of successfully completing a petition drive has risen considerably, sometimes more than doubling.

Registration Requirements for Petition Circulators

Registration requirements have been suggested in the legislatures of many states in recent years, making registration an up-and-coming threat to petitioning rights.

Residency Requirements

Residency requirements are one of the most frequently imposed restrictions on the initiative process. These laws require that someone circulating a petition for an initiative, referendum, or recall effort be a resident of the state, county, or locality that the petition is aimed at. Supporters of such requirements claim that they are needed to reduce fraud and insure that circulators can be found if signatures are challenged.

Distribution Requirements

A distribution requirement is a legislative or state constitutional mandate requiring that petitions for a ballot measure must be signed by voters from different political subdivisions – such as counties – in order for the ballot measure to qualify for the ballot. Distribution requirements have been struck down in five states, and are currently under legal challenge in three.