NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Initiatives Crowd The Ballot This Year

October 25, 2000

Critics call Oregon's ballot initiative system democracy in its purest form. Critics say it's democracy run amok. Either way, there's no dispute that Oregon voters face a staggering number of ballot choices next month. Not since North Dakota did so in 1932 has a state put so many citizen-sponsired initiatives on the ballot in a single election. More measures were placed on more state ballots in the 1990s than in any decade, surpassing the record set in the 1910s.

Observers note Oregon's busy ballot illustrates two broader themes in the initiative process around the nation, namely its ever-expanding use and the growing number of questions about whether it is such a wise method of making public policy.

  • This year, voters in 42 states will consider 204 initiatives or referendums.
  • Some are critically important, such as Oregon's anti-tax measure that could force the state to cut $5 billion or more in spending from it anticipated $32 billion budget for 2001-2003.
  • Several important policies -- the taxcutting revolt, approval of medicinal use of marijuana -- have become law in recent years.
  • The passage rate over the past century was 40 percent, and 49 percent over the past decade.

Among the votes this year, California and Michigan will consider school voucher plans; Colorado initiatives would require local governments to put development plans before voters; and Nebraskans will decide whether to prohibit homosexual marriage.

Critcs point to problems with the initiatives. First, they favor proposals with wealthy backers, because it takes money to pay the professional signature-gatherers necessary to get a measure on the ballot. Second, they argue it undercuts the notion of representative government.

Source: Sam Howe Verhovek, "A Ballot Full of Voter Initiatives Becomes an Issue Itself in Oregon," New York Times, October 25, 2000.


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