Paul Jacob, President of Citizens In Charge Foundation, responds to a participants concerns on individual/constitutional rights with regards to the initiative and referendum process.

Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 120, providing an additional $16 million in funding to the state’s 58 counties for verifying millions of voter signatures on “potentially dozens of initiative petitions” and for processing the crush of new voter registrations.                                                                                                                   Secretary of State Alex Padilla applauded the funding bill, calling this election cycle “unique.” He explained that, “County elections officials must not only prepare for a surge in voter turnout, they also have to verify a massive number of signatures for ballot measure initiative petitions.”

After more than a century in California’s political spotlight, the state’s initiative process will be getting a major revise next year. Even more surprising, both Democrats and Republicans in the famously partisan Legislature are happy to see it happen.

The low turnout of voters in the recent mid-term elections disappointed quite a few folks throughout the country. Those seeking to qualify initiatives for the 2016 ballot, however, have something to cheer about.  With fewer votes being cast come lower thresholds for signature requirements in many initiative states, especially in initiative heavy-weight California, where the signature requirement has dropped to the lowest raw number in 25 years.

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.

Oklahomans who want to put an issue on the state ballot face a process so complicated that state officials often advise them to hire an attorney to study murky and sometimes conflicting language in the Constitution, statutes and court opinions.

If they do manage to navigate the legal hurdles, they have 90 days to collect enough voter signatures to put their proposal on the ballot. The number of signatures is so high that an expensive army of canvassers is required if the initiative drive is to be successful.

Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a bill June 4 that sought to clarify the process. Secretary of State Chris Benge, whose office has produced a four-page flow chart on initiative procedures, hopes a similar bill succeeds next year.

Got a ballot measure for 2016? You’re in luck.

Ballot initiatives two years from now will need about 30 percent fewer qualifying signatures than they did this year, according to the political-consulting types at Sacramento’s Redwood Pacific Public Affairs.

The reason: abysmal turnout for the Nov. 4 election. California requires valid signatures equal to 8 percent of the most recent gubernatorial vote to qualify a constitutional amendment for the ballot, 5 percent for regular laws and veto referenda.

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.

When North Dakota voters go to the polls Tuesday, they’ll find a ballot containing eight statewide measures, the most in a quarter century.

That’s the same number that was on the ballot in a special election on Dec. 5, 1989.

The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald banner headline the morning after reflected the voters’ mood:

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

That election, and perhaps that headline itself, served as an exclamation mark for North Dakota in the 1980s, a time of rapid rural depopulation and economic decline. Even then-Gov. George Sinner — father of the current U.S. House candidate of the same name — was referred to in the state Capitol and in the media and as Gov. Gloom and Doom.

Arkansas is neither vibrant New York nor sunny California. Located in the South-Mid of the United States, Arkansas’ facts are average: Inhabited by 2,949,132 people, Arkansas ranks 32nd with regards to population and 29th in geographical size. At the same time, the “Natural State” - Arkansas is called due to its enduring image - has produced extraordinary figures: Bill Clinton (born in Hope in 1946) made Arkansas famous when the Governvor was elected US President in 1993. Singer songwriter Johnny Cash and former NATO US General Wesley Clark also grew up in the state, which was inhabited by the Caddo, Osage, and Quapaw indigenous people prior to European Settlement.

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.

By word and deed, the state’s politically dominant Democrats have demonstrated that they want to substantially alter California’s century-old initiative system that allows voters to legislate directly through the ballot box.

They say they want to improve the system. A few years ago, the Democratic Party’s executive board declared that it’s “being abused … to create laws and programs that benefit a very few people at the expense of the many.”

But the Democrats’ many bills have mostly tried to make it more difficult for their conservative political rivals to place measures on the ballot, while preserving the system for their allies, such as labor unions.

An Alameda Superior County Court judge issued two rulings regarding contested ballot language for November ballot measures Tuesday.

Two parties of plaintiffs challenged the ballot language for a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and an initiative regarding development in Downtown Berkeley. In both cases, judge Evelio Grillo decided to amend portions of each ballot measure’s language.

In the case of the “soda tax,” Grillo replaced the phrases “high-calorie, sugary drinks” and “high-calorie, low-nutrition products” in the ballot language and city attorney’s analysis, respectively, with “sugar-sweetened beverages.”

With a boost from the Fourth of July and other summer celebrations, three groups circulating ballot petitions are confident they will have their measures before voters in November.

Petition drives are underway for ballot measures that would create a new conservation fund, start the school year after Labor Day and change the state pharmacy ownership law. A fourth group, pursuing a shared parenting initiative, has turned in its signatures and is waiting for ballot approval from the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office.

Drawing the stiffest opposition so far is a measure that would create a Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Trust. It would require setting aside 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenue annually for conservation.

In Nevada, the deadline for collecting signatures has come and gone, with no citizen-initiated measures able to qualify for this November’s ballot. Petitions were circulated on two conservative-backed measures, but both failed to collect the 101,000 required signatures. One measure would have required voters to present a photo ID at the polls and the other would have blocked state government from setting up a state exchange as part of the national Affordable Care Act.

No citizen-initiated measures have qualified for the Nevada ballot since 2006.