initiative and referendum

In a “Frank-tastic” op-ed appearing today at, Alabama initiative rights activist Frank Dillman calls for the adoption of statewide initiative and referendum for the citizens of the Yellowhammer state.  

“Citizens in 26 states and thousands of cities have a greater voice than Alabamians,” argues Dillman, “because our legislative process permits trumping 9-5 working voices with well-funded special interest groups.”

Dillman is the creator of Let Bama Vote, a group dedicated to convincing legislators to propose a constitutional amendment establishing a system whereby citizens can initiate ballot measures or refer acts of the legislature to a public vote. Their website is

Citizens in 26 states and thousands of cities have a greater voice than Alabamians because our legislative process permits trumping 9-5 working voices with well-funded special interest groups.  As a result, many citizens have apathetically surrendered their civic duty asking “Why vote, does it matter?”

It does matter.  Moreover, that solution is rests with our legislature.  The ability to create a “citizen friendly” state along with the “business friendly” state touted by Speaker Mike Hubbard is solely theirs.  Their unwillingness to provide citizens a vote on Initiative and Referendum (I&R), the capability for citizens to be more involved in state government, is self-preservation.

In his latest book, “Unstoppable,” consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader lauds Citizens in Charge as a “convergent group” bringing people together from across the political spectrum.

In the book, Nader presents 25 reform ideas that cannot be stopped, one of which is to “spread the initiative, referendum and recall to every state and municipality.”

Urging “liberals and conservatives” to “look straight at the reforms that are needed to give more choices for the voters in a competitive democracy,” Nader writes that “Citizens in Charge” is “already at work on this objective.”


A majority of Americans back three political reform ideas, including 68% who favor national referenda on key issues if enough voters sign a petition to request a popular vote on the issue. Roughly six in 10 favor a shortened presidential campaign lasting five weeks in the fall of an election year and a nationwide primary election to select each party’s candidates for president.

When our nation’s founders wrote the language in the First Amendment guaranteeing the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances,” there were no words describing the form of that petition.

Obviously the intent was to make sure the content of your complaints to your government would never land you in jail or to suffer some other harm.

Now, of course, common sense would say that for your petition to have any effect, your words would have to be legible and understandable to a reasonable person. Skywriting or putting a couple of thousand words on a thimble head might impede that legibility or understandability, for example.

The current situation in Washington, likely to get worse in the next few years rather than better, should turn the attention of progressives and all fervent believers in democracy to initiative and referendum (I&R) as a way to preserve at least some semblance of democracy.

Yes, I&R has been abused in some places, at times. But it has done a world of good at other times, in other places.

Note how democracy has been strangled by the Republicans’ openly discriminatory gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts! And note how I&R gets around that problem.

Read more at The Daily Kos

The Citizens in Charge Foundation page on the history of ballot initiative & referendum in New Jersey begins:

It is ironic that New Jersey, the state where the national initiative and
referendum movement originated, never adopted provisions for I&R.
Certainly it was not for lack of enthusiasm among New Jersey’s I&R