Ballot initiatives offer voters the opportunity to place an issue on the ballot without passing through the gauntlet of the legislative process. As the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center wrote in its brief “The Impact of the Ballot Initiative Process in America,” voters in states that allow ballot initiatives “are motivated by the opportunity to decide for themselves how issues close to their lives are managed and resolved, instead of leaving it up to the promises of lawmakers.” Direct citizen access to the ballot was first approved in South Dakota in 1898 and has since spread to a total of 21 states and the District of Columbia, with 18 states offering the opportunity for citizens to place an amendment to the state’s constitution directly on the ballot.

This analysis assesses states on the availability of the three types of ballot initiatives: statute initiatives, direct or indirect; constitutional initiatives; and statute referendums, which allow citizens to recall a law after it has been passed through the legislature. States that have these measures receive a higher score than states that do not. Twenty-four states do not have any such laws in place.

For a more detailed explanation of each factor, including citations, please download the full report.

Click to view scoring methodology
  1. Current Policy in State
    Points added to score
  2. State has passed laws allowing for statute initiatives, popular referendums, and Constitutional amendment initiatives
    0 points
  3. State has not passed a law allowing for statute initiatives
    3.33 points
  4. State has not passed a law allowing for popular referendums
    3.33 points
  5. State has not passed a law allowing for Constitutional amendment initiatives
    3.33 points
Policy Recommendation for This Factor
Allow citizen ballot initiatives

Ballot initiatives, conceived as an opportunity for regular citizens to “shape public policy and regain power from the corporate interests,” are a critical piece in ensuring full voter participation—not just in electing representatives but also in exercising direct democracy. States that lack initiative provisions should create the opportunity for citizens to place issues on the ballot via initiative.

Click here to see a full list of policy recommendations to improve the health of state democracies based on the findings of this report.

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