Ballot measures, more particularly the initiative and referendum process, allow voters in some states to take direct action to enact statutes and amend the state constitution. The history of direct democracy in the United States primarily dates back to the progressive era. In 1898, South Dakota became the first state to authorize its citizens to use the popular referendum process to repeal specific statutes that the state legislature passed. Over the next 20 years, nearly half the states amended their constitutions to allow voter-led initiative, referendum, and/or recall processes. These tools of direct democracy — allowing citizens to have a direct say in public policy in the state as opposed to relying on their elected officials under the republican system — were a response to corruption scandals rampant in state legislatures of the era. Today, these systems remain a core part of the state public policy system.
Citizen initiatives are a process in 22 states by which citizens can bypass state legislatures to place proposed statutes (in 20 states) or constitutional amendments (in 17 states) directly on the ballot for voter approval. Alternatively, lawmakers can refer a statute to the ballot for voter approval in 24 states, and in every state but Deleware, lawmakers can refer constitutional amendments to the ballot for voter approval.
A direct initiative (often referred to simply as an “initiative”) is a process in 19 states by which citizens can bypass state legislatures to place proposed statutes (in 14 states) or constitutional amendments (in 16 states) directly on the ballot for voter approval. While direct initiatives, as the name implies, go directly to the ballot after approval, indirect initiatives must go to the legislature first to give lawmakers a chance to take action before the proposal is placed on the ballot. There are nine states that require proposed statutes to go to the legislature first, but only two states (Massachusetts and Mississippi) require indirect initiatives for constitutional amendments.
A popular referendum is a process in 23 states by which citizens can place a measure on the ballot that will repeal specific statutes that the legislature passed. The popular referendum is alternately called the veto referendum, citizen referendum, statute referendum, or statute remand. The legislative referendum (also known as “legislatively-referred” state statutes or constitutional amendments) is a process where the state legislature places a proposed statute (in 23 states) or constitutional amendment (in 49 states, with Delaware as the sole exception) on the ballot for voters to approve. In many states, legislatures are required to ask the voters for approval on issues including constitutional amendments and bond measures.
Statewide Ballot Measures in 2022
So far, over 100 statewide ballot measures have been certified to appear on 2022 ballots in 35 states, of which, most will appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
You can learn about each of the statewide ballot measures and keep track of their progress using MultiState's 2022 Elections Dashboard.