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Initiative & Referendum Process


History of Initiatives & Referendums

The Progressive Era (1890's to 1920's) was a time of widespread social and political reform, mostly aimed at breaking up the power of monopolies and trusts. At the time, wealthy individuals could "purchase" influence in state governments. In order to break this power, Progressives believed the common citizen should have a way to get directly involved with their state government.

Thus, the Initiative and Referendum process was born. First adopted by South Dakota in 1898, the process was adopted by many new western states as the United States moved west. Now, over 26 states have initiative and/or referendum processes available to citizens. (For more, click here: Direct Democracy)


Which states have the initiative petition process?

Fifteen states throughout the U.S. have the initiative process for state statutes and constitutional amendments. People in these states have the ability to petition for changes to the state constitutions as well as state statutes, without having to go through the legislative process.

States with Initiated Statutes and Amendments

the process

How does the initiative process work?

While the process varies from state to state, the process generally goes like so:

  1. Filing a proposed petition with suitable state official
  2. Review of the petition to ensure that it conforms to statutory requirements.
  3. Preparation of a ballot title and summary
  4. Circulation of the petition to obtain the required amount of signatures of registered voters.
  5. Submission of the petition to a state elections official for verification.

Before starting the initiative petition process, be sure to follow the guidelines for your state specifically.

the problems

Problems with the Initiative Process

Unfortunately, the initiative process has a major flaw. Before an initiative is put on the ballot, the signatures must be verified by a state official. In the state of Oklahoma, petition signatures are verified by the Secretary of State. What do verified signatures mean, though?

In order to have a verified signature, the Secretary of State must be able to confirm that the person who signed, 1) is an actual person, 2) is a registered voter, and 3) actually signed the petition themselves.

When petitions have illegible signatures, it becomes difficult to verify all three of the above criteria. How do we trace a scribble back to a person? How do we know that person is a registered voter? And, how do we know that the person signed the signature themselves?

The Secretary of State (or your designated state official) or the state courts generally do not want to approve unverified signatures, but also do not want to discredit actual signatures, so the petitions usually get passed without thorough verification.

the solution

How Western Petition Helps Solve the Problems

In Oklahoma, Western Petition Systems spearheaded legislation that will modernize the age old, archaic petition system, starting on November 1st, 2020.

Our innovative and automated process searches voter records and matches signatures with registered voters, highlighting discrepancies, and providing a detailed report to the Secretary of State.

Each signature can be traced back to a registered voter using three or more data points, eliminating many of the issues associated with the initiative process.

why it's important

Better Petitions Means Healthier Democracy

The Initiative and Referendum Process was invented to give citizens a direct say in what goes on their ballot, and to skip the legislative process. By accurately verifying each signature on an initiative petition, we can ensure that actual, real citizens are determining what goes on the ballot, not corporations or malicious groups of people vying for their own political agenda.

"... the people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and amendments to the Constitution and to enact or reject the same at the polls independent of the legislature, and also reserve power at their own option to approve or reject at the polls any act of the legislature."

— Oklahoma Constitution Article V