Position on Initiative and Referendum

State or National:


Position in Brief:

Support citizens’ right of direct legislation through the initiative and referendum process.


  1. Right to Initiative and Referendum
    1. California should retain the direct initiative for statutes and constitutional amendments.
    2. California should retain the referendum.
    3. California should make changes to improve the initiative and referendum process.
    4. California should adopt an indirect initiative procedure, preferably as an optional alternative to the direct initiative.
  2. Drafting
    1. Initiative sponsors should be required to submit draft proposals to an impartial and nonpartisan, official authority, such as the Legislative Analyst’s Office (for statewide measures), for a precirculation review of clarity/language, constitutionality/legality, and single subject.
    2. The opinion resulting from the precirculation review should be made public.
    3. Initiative proposals should be limited to a single subject.
    4. Initiative proposals should be written in language that is precise, clear, and understandable and meets standards of readability.
    5. Initiatives should include a provision providing for an automatic review or expiration of the measure, as appropriate.
    6. Initiatives with provisions that would require funding should specify the sources or method(s) of providing the funding.
  3. Title and Summary

The title and summary should be written by an impartial and nonpartisan offical authority, such as the Legislative Analyst’s Office (for statewide meaures).

  1. Signature Gathering
    1. If appropriate security safeguards are in place, Internet and/or other electronic technology should be allowed for signature gathering.
    2. California should have a system of registration and training for signature gatherers.
  1. Qualifications
    1. Requirements should be retained for:
      1. direct initiative statute–valid signatures numbering 5 percent of the total vote for all candidates for governor in the gubernatorial election, 150 days to collect signatures;
      2. direct initiative constitutional amendment–valid signatures numbering 8 percent of the total vote for all candidates for governor in the gubernatorial election, 150 days to collect signatures;
      3. referendum on a legislative statute—valid signatures numbering 5 percent of the total vote for all candidates for governor in the last gubernatorial election, 90 days to collect signatures.
    2. The filing fee should reflect costs of processing initiative and referendum proposals.
    3. No requirement for geographic distribution should be imposed.
    4. Solicitation of signatures and campaign funds in the same mailing should be allowed.
    5. The standard to qualify an initiative constitutional amendment should be higher than that for an initiative statute.
  2. Campaign
    1. Realistic limits should be imposed on contributions by individuals and groups to initiative and referendum campaigns.
    2. Realistic limits should be imposed on expenditures by individuals and groups in initiative and referendum campaigns.
    3. There should be provision for free time for radio and TV information programs for initiative campaigns.
    4. No public financing should be provided for initiative and referendum campaigns.
    5. The legislature should conduct public hearings on initiative and referendum proposals around the state, with adequate public notice.
    6. Ballot pamphlet analyses of initiative and referendum measures should be written for the reading level of the average citizen.
    7. The ballot label and ballot pamphlet should clearly indicate the effect of a yes vote and a no vote.
  3. Disclosure
    1. Sponsors of an initiative or referendum and organizations that form a committee to support or oppose a measure should be required to be listed by name in the ballot pamphlet, in mailings, and in advertisements.
    2. Principal contributors to an initiative or referendum campaign should be required to be listed by name in the ballot pamphlet, in mailings, and in advertisements.
    3. Initiative and referendum committees should be required to use names that reflect their true economic or special interest.
  4. Election
    1. Voting on initiatives should take place at primary and general elections but not at special elections.
    2. An initiative statute, or a legislative statute appearing on the ballot as a referendum, should be approved by a simple majority of those voting on the measure to take effect.
    3. The standard to pass an initiative constitutional amendment should be higher than a simple majority vote.
    4. An initiative statute or constitutional amendment that imposes a new requirement for passage of future initiatives should meet the same requirement.
    5. An initiative statute or constitutional amendment that requires a supermajority vote for passage of future related issues should be required to receive the same supermajority vote approval for its passage.
    6. State initiative measures should apply to the entire state, not only to those political subdivisions in which they are approved.
    7. An initiative should not be allowed to provide for different outcomes depending upon the percentage of votes cast in its favor.
  5. Post-Election
    1. Under limited circumstances, the legislature, without approval by the voters, should be allowed to amend a statute adopted by initiative. Circumstances could include that the amendments are consistent with the original intent of the initiative or are made after a waiting period.
    2. Approval by the voters should be required to amend constitutional amendments adopted by initiative.
    3. If two or more initiatives with conflicting provisions pass at the same election, the initiative receiving the greatest number of votes should be enacted.
    4. Initiative proposals that do not win voter approval should be allowed to appear on subsequent ballots without restriction, if they again meet qualification requirements.
  6. Legal Aspects
    1. The definition of “single subject” pertaining to initiatives should be redefined to ensure stricter interpretation and stricter enforcement.
    2. Constitutional challenges to voter-approved initiatives being reviewed in the state courts should be heard by a three-judge panel rather than a single judge.
  7. Principles

In evaluating proposed changes to various stages of the initiative and referendum processes, the following principles should be considered as they apply to all participants in the process.  While these principles reinforce each other, they may at times be in tension. In such decisions, the principles listed as critical should be given heavier weight.

Critical principles:

  1. Accessibility –All interested parties can give input into the process.
  2. Accountability – All parties abide by California laws, and the laws are enforced adequately and in a timely way.
  3. Clarity – The process and the content of initiatives and referendums are understandable.
  4. Integrity – The process is sound and consistent with ethical principles and practices.
  5. Transparency – The maximum amount of information about all aspects of the process is publically available in a timely manner.
  6. Also important:
  7. Compromise – The initiative and referendum process allows for negotiation and cooperation by interested parties.
  8. Respect for Rights—No individual or group can restrict the rights of any participant in the initiative and referendum process.
  9. Deliberative Process– The process allows sufficient time and opportunity for discussion and collaboration.
  10. Impartiality—The process reflects the rights of individuals and groups without partiality or bias.

Position History:

Adopted 1984; Updated 1999, 2013