The Initiative and Referendum Institute
October 24, 2002

"I get calls from reporters almost daily asking me about what's on the November ballot as well as what I consider the "hot and interesting" issues. What I almost always tell them is that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." What's "hot and interesting" to one person may not be of any interest to anyone else. The reason I bring this up is because of a phone conversation I had yesterday with a BBC Radio reporter. He was asking me about all "the crazy things" that were on the ballot and just couldn't believe some of the things we "Americans" would be voting on this November. He was particularly intrigued by the initiative in Florida that would ban certain gestation crates for pigs as well as the initiative in Oklahoma that would "ban cockfighting".

To some people, these initiatives might seem unusual. But to the people behind them - and to the voters who vote for them - these issues are of tremendous importance. When I first started the Institute, I too would privately ask myself why the citizens were placing certain things on the ballot. However, I soon realized - through numerous conversations with initiative proponents and opponents - that every issue that was appearing on the ballot was backed by citizens with deep personal and philosophical beliefs in what they were pushing. In most cases they had turned to the initiative process because they couldn't find enough lawmakers with their passion for the issue to get anything done through the traditional lawmaking process - so they decided to take their issue directly to their fellow citizen.

Behind almost every initiative, there is a story - a passion for change. Stories that even as one who studies ballot measures for a living could never appreciate. The attached article that appeared in The Washington Post today exemplifies what I am saying. To the proponents of the North Dakota initiative discussed in the article, the issue is of tremendous importance but something that most of us outside North Dakota can't appreciate.

As I say, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" - what might seem odd or unusual or of unimportance to some is the life work of others. The beauty of the initiative process is that it gives people the opportunity to have their passions and beliefs placed before their neighbor and an opportunity to try and educate the world about an issue that is of great importance to them. Who are we to tell them that their idea is crazy or of unimportance - that's for their fellow voter to decide."

Dane Waters
Initiative and Referendum Institute

FROM PIGS TO POT, Voters' Concerns Fill the Ballots
By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 23, 2002; Page A01

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Growing up on the mud-brown Dakota plains, Larry Wegleitner was surrounded by siblings -- 11 of them, to be precise. "But today, there's only three of us still in North Dakota," the Bismarck State College student laments. "Thing is, this state has no jobs. And nothing much to do, either, unless you really like to hunt and fish. So everybody leaves."

The exodus of young people has made North Dakota the nation's slowest-growing state over the past three decades. So this fall, polls suggest, voters are likely to approve an innovative idea to counter the problem of "outmigration." The "Youth Investment Initiative" on the Nov. 5 ballot would pay as much as $10,000 to anybody who agrees to live in North Dakota for five years after finishing college.

North Dakota's bounty plan is one of 202 ballot measures facing voters in 40 states this fall, according to a tally by the Initiative and Referendum Institute. Most of the proposals were referred to voters by state legislatures, including a raft of new taxes and bond measures to cope with the economic downturn. But 53 of the measures represent direct democracy at work: ideas placed on the ballot by citizen initiative, often designed specifically to reverse legislative action.

The youth investment payment proposal here is the product of a statewide petition drive instituted after the state legislature rejected a similar bonus plan. Voters in Michigan and Montana will consider measures directing their legislatures how to use the tens of millions of dollars coming in from the national tobacco lawsuit settlement. Idaho's Proposition 2 would reinstate a term limits law that was abolished by the legislature.

Campaigning for initiatives is having a direct impact on the election hopes of individual politicians. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's tight race for reelection has been made even tighter by the furor over a ballot measure that would set maximum class sizes in all public schools (from 18 students per class in the earliest grades to 25 in high school). After declaring education to be his top priority, Bush has opposed the initiative on grounds of cost; he was embarrassed when he was overheard promising to use "devious measures" to circumvent the plan if it passes.

In California, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger may be rehearsing for a political role as he leads the campaign for Proposition 49, which would require state funding for after-school programs. Many Republicans hope Schwarzenegger will say "I'll be back" for a statewide race of his own in the near future.

The potential beneficiaries of this year's initiatives range from pot smokers in Nevada, Arizona and South Dakota -- all considering proposals for partial legalization of marijuana -- to pregnant pigs in Pensacola.

Animal rights groups have put a law on the Florida ballot to ban the caging of pregnant sows, an idea that could spread to other pork-producing states if it passes this year.

Although North Dakota's bonus payment plan for young residents is a local response to a local problem, national patterns are often evident in direct democracy, as is the case this year.

Anti-smoking activists have placed measures on the ballots in four states. Missourians will vote on a proposal to quadruple the tax on a pack of cigarettes, from 17 to 72 cents. Arizona has a referendum to make its cigarette tax $1.18 a pack, more than double the current 58-cent tax.

The Michigan and Montana proposals would require those states' legislators to use nearly all of the money from the national tobacco settlement for anti-smoking efforts; both states now apply the tobacco money to other programs. Florida's Amendment 6 would outlaw smoking in almost all public places, including restaurants.

The animal rights movement is also active in the direct-democracy field. National groups are supporting the proposed ban on "gestation cages" on pig farms in Florida and an Arkansas initiative that would increase the crime of cruelty to animals from a misdemeanor to a felony.

But the feather in the cap for animal rights activists this year is in Oklahoma, where voters seem likely to approve a ban on cockfighting. The legislature has repeatedly rejected bills to outlaw the traditional pastime, but polls suggest a majority of voters will back a prohibition when they vote on the issue Nov. 5.

The national campaign against bilingual education for immigrant children has surfaced again this year in Colorado and Massachusetts. There has been hot debate in both states over proposals to require that English be the language of teaching in all public schools, with students who don't speak English being placed in "total immersion" programs rather than being taught in their native language. Polls say both states might approve the measures -- as California and Arizona voters already have done -- even though the educational establishment has been harshly critical.

Election rules are hardy perennials in the direct-democracy garden, and some familiar species have been planted again this year. In addition to Idaho's term-limits proposal, Oregon voters will decide whether to list a choice of "none of the above" on all state ballots. California and Colorado have proposals to let would-be voters register at the polls on Election Day.

The people of Tennessee will decide whether to institute a state lottery, with many religious leaders pushing for a "no" vote. Idaho will vote on whether to allow slot machines on Indian reservations, an idea opposed by Mormon leaders in the southern part of the state. Arizona's ballot includes proposals to expand gambling on reservations and to allow casinos on non-Indian land.

The total number of statewide ballot measures in 2002 is almost the same as in 2000, but there has been a sharp drop -- more than 30 percent -- in the number of initiatives placed on ballots by citizen petitions.

"We've seen a real fallback in the initiative process this year, but it's not clear whether this is a long-term trend," said Dane Waters of the Leesburg-based Initiative and Referendum Institute. "It could be that this is because people don't have the money this year to launch a campaign. It may be that the advocates want to see how the state legislatures look after redistricting; maybe they can get what they want without going to an initiative.

"But the key factor is the fact that legislatures basically don't like the initiative process," Waters said. "There have been changes in several states making it harder to get a proposal on the ballot." Indeed, the National Conference of State Legislatures issued a report this summer sharply critical of citizen initiatives. In Oklahoma and Montana, the legislatures have put proposals on the ballot this year to restrict the initiative process.

Even Oregon, which has served as a launch pad for national initiative efforts, has fewer initiatives this year, with 12 proposals on the ballot, compared with 26 in 2000. Still, the Oregon initiatives this year are typically ambitious, including a proposal for universal medical care, a state minimum wage of $6.90 an hour (compared with the national minimum of $5.15), and a requirement for labeling any food product that contains genetically modified crops.

But Oregon takes a back seat to North Dakota this year in the competition for most innovative ballot proposal. Although many states have offered tax incentives to get businesses to move in, none has provided the direct bonus to individuals that North Dakota would offer to lure the young to this vast but sparsely populated state.

"We spend $88,000 to educate somebody through college," notes Roger Johnson, the Democratic state agricultural commissioner who is leading the fight for the youth investment proposal. "Then we export that product to Minneapolis or someplace. We have to send a message to our young people that we want them here at home. We are keeping our old folks, but the number of young people who leave the state each year is downright scary."

To send that message, the initiative calls for North Dakota to forgive $1,000 of a student loan per year and provide a $1,000 tax credit for five years to any state resident younger than 30. Backers say the increased economic activity would pay for the benefits. Opponents agree with Gov. John Hoeven (R), who says the plan "would cost tens of millions and wouldn't create a single job."

Here at Bismarck State, the student body is generally supportive of an idea that could mean money in their pockets. But even the potential beneficiaries are not sure the idea would work.

"The thing about North Dakota is, you love it or you hate it," says Wegleitner, the freshman whose siblings have mostly fled the state. "If you want a big city instead of staring out at durum [wheat] all day long, 10,000 bucks probably won't be enough to keep you."