Ballot Measure Roundup

Here’s one last topic that we haven’t paid much attention to in the last few months at SSP, but is of great importance in terms of shaping policy at the state level: major ballot initiatives and referenda. The use of the initiative is in some places, especially in the blue states of the West Coast where Democrats firmly control the legislatures but self-declared initiative kingpins have well-entrenched operations, the right wing’s last means of access to the levers of power. So vigilance is required… and unfortunately, this tends to be one of the few areas where we’re playing defense these days.

The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center reports that there are 153 measures, including 61 initiatives, on the ballot in 35 different states this year. This is actually down from 2004, when there were 162 measures (including 55 initiatives), a year where, in the opinion of some (but certainly not all), the initiatives made all the difference (via the inclusion of anti-gay initiatives in a variety of key swing states to motivate conservative GOTV). Rather than plow through all 153 of them, over the flip let’s focus on some of the ones getting the most attention…

One striking difference from 2004 is that fear of teh gays just doesn’t seem to be cutting it anymore, popping up only in a few states. The big initiative on this front, and probably the biggest of all initiatives this year in terms of media exposure and money spent, is California Proposition 8. This proposes to rewrite the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage (which is currently legal in California, thanks to a May state supreme court decision striking down an older anti-gay marriage initiative). Polling has bounced around all over the place as a blitz of advertising funded by primarily out-of-state money has pushed ‘yes’ (in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage) into the lead in some recent polls. The most recent Field Poll (from today) showed ‘no’ in the lead 49-44, down from a 17-point advantage in September. Troublingly, the majority of those who have already voted or absentee early have voted ‘yes’ (not necessarily what you’d expect, given the large Democratic margins among early votes in many other states, but perhaps explained that many early/absentee voters are older).

The gay marriage issue also makes an appearance in Florida Amendment 2, which seeks to preemptively amend the constitution to ban gay marriage and domestic partnership. This may be a case of overreach in Florida, where many elderly heterosexual couples would benefit from formation of domestic partnerships rather than remarrying, to avoid losing benefits. A South Florida Sun-Sentinel poll today shows 53% support for the measure; however, that’s not enough, as an amendment like this needs 60% support to pass.

Reproductive freedom issues show up in several states. For instance, California Proposition 4 tries once again to impose parental notification limits on abortion access. This measure proposes a ‘judicial bypass’ allowing girls from abusive households to seek judicial permission, but such measures have failed twice before.

South Dakota Measure 11 seeks to resurrect the strict abortion ban that was imposed by the legislature but struck down by citizen initiative in 2006. The replacement for it pretends to be less onerous, with exemptions for rape, incest, and the mother’s health, although exercising any of those involves jumping through multiple bureaucratic hoops. This one will be close: Research 2000 (for Daily Kos) sees ‘no’ (against the ban) winning 44-42, while the Argus-Leader sees a 42-42 tie.

Colorado Amendment 48 paves the way for who-knows-what, by going much further by declaring the ‘personhood’ begins at the moment of conception. This one is turning into a bit of a Waterloo for the anti-abortion forces, as it’s down in the polls by a whopping 68-27 margin. Part of the problem is that many anti-abortion groups like Focus on the Family haven’t gotten behind this, fearing that it goes so far it will be easily struck down by the US Supreme Court and set precedents even more difficult to overcome.

Also at issue is Colorado Amendment 46, one of only a few anti-affirmative action measures pushed by initiative kingpin Ward Connerly that actually made it onto the ballot this year. Connerly’s success at pushing initiatives like this may be dwindling, as establishment figures from governor Bill Ritter to the Denver Chamber of Commerce have piled on against this measure.

On the education front, it’s conservatives vs. the teachers’ unions on a number of fronts; a key example is Oregon Measure 60, an attempt by local initiative entrepreneur Bill Sizemore to impose merit pay on teachers based on classroom performance. A similar measure was rejected by 65% of voters in 2000, however. Oregon Measure 58, also from Sizemore, seeks to impose ‘English only’ requirements and eliminate bilingual education.

Well, it isn’t all bad; there are a few progressive measures here and there. California Proposition 7 is a good example. This measure requires all utilities (not just private electrical companies, who are all subject to this requirement) to generate 20% of their power from renewables by 2010 (and up to 50% by 2025). Unfortunately, this is another race where heavy spending (by state private utilities) seems to be driving numbers the wrong way; while it had 63% in a July Field Poll, the most recent Field Poll sees it failing 39-43. (UPDATE: Several commenters point out that a number of environmental groups are opposed to Prop 7 for being written in a way that excludes small-scale energy producers; see the Calitics explanation. Opposition from the left may explain its sudden decline in popularity.)

The most heated ballot measure in the Evergreen State is Washington Initiative 1000, which proposes to bring physician-assisted suicide (currently legal only in Oregon) to the state. Polls have shown fairly widespread support for this measure, such as SurveyUSA recently giving it 49-32 support.

Montana Initiative 155 is an ambitious plan to provide health care coverage to the state’s uninsured children. Montana has one of the highest rates of uninsured children and big gaps in its SCHIP coverage; this measure proposes to extend coverage to 30,000 kids, partly through an insurance premium tax. Despite the state’s Republican lean, this radical redistributionist initiative is one of the most popular measures anywhere, with recent polling giving it 73% support.

Whew! This barely scratches the surface, but these are 10 of the biggest measures out there. Undoubtedly I’ve left out some measures with some passionate supporters or detractors here, so please feel free to chip in in the comments with what’s big in your state and how the odds of passage are looking.

Get Verified: Oregon Ballot Measures

With the submission of signatures for this year’s Oregon Ballot Measures, I thought I’d run down their chances of making the ballot and what they mean, along with listing those ideas that will not make it this year.  Cross-posted from Loaded Orygun (

On July 3, petitioners turned in the last of their required signatures for this year’s crop of proposed ballot initiatives.  The SOS has until about the end of the month to verify whether they are valid or not.

The data sources for most of this come from the SOS’s website at:


AG: Attorney General.

SOS: Secretary of State.

Some process basics:

Although commonly thought only as an Initiative process, the actual truth is that there are four major types of ballot measures (of which the first three are by far the most common):

Legislative Referrals-Typically these are constitutional modifications but they can be statutory as well (See 2007’s Measure 49, which modified the state’s land use laws as an example).  Depending on the specific measure, they require either a simple majority or, in some cases, a 3/5 majority to get on the ballot.

Citizen Statutory Initiatives-Change or create state law.  They require 82,679 signatures.

Citizen Constitutional Initiatives-Change the Oregon Constitution.  They require 110,358 signatures.

Citizen Referrals-Refer a recently passed law, by the legislature, to the people for a vote, most recently seen in the failed attempts to get votes on the state’s new domestic partnership (civil unions) and GLBT civil rights laws.  They require 55,179 signatures, which must be turned in within 90 days after the law is signed by the Governor.

Signature Verification Method:

Oregon is unique in that it does not generally verify every single signature.  Instead, the SOS randomly samples about 10-15% of the signatures and verifies them against the statewide database.  There are accepted ratios that for every type of violation (such as out of state, not registered and duplicate signatures) that are found, there are likely to be a certain number in the full set.  If a sampling shows a measure may not have enough to qualify, the SOS then takes a second equally sized sample and verifies that.  Typically about 65-75% of signatures submitted for a measure are valid, although non-paid signature gatherers tend to do much better than paid ones.  The recent record for paid signature gatherers is 85-90% by the Christian Right folks, who get such high validity rates by passing around the petitions at churches, where registration is high.

Changes to Oregon’s Initiative Laws:

In response to a number of minor scandals, mostly by conservative groups, the Oregon Legislature passed HB 2082 in 2007, which set down increased requirements for gathering signatures.  Simply put, the requirements  are as follows:

1. Required online training courses and certification for all paid signature gatherers.

2. The state will now provide basic templates for petition signature sheets.  In the past, sheets were given a guide, which was often followed incorrectly, leading to invalidated signatures.

3. 1,000 signatures must now be submitted to get a ballot title (the description that goes on the ballot, widely considered a key part of whether a measure passes or not).  Previously, only 50 signatures were required, leading to “title shopping”, where groups would submit many versions of the same measure to try and get a good ballot title.

4. The requirement that each sheet only contain signatures from persons in only one county is repealed.  This was done because with the new statewide voter registration database, it was an unnecessary restriction.

5. Increased restrictions on signature gatherers related to what they can or can’t do to correct invalid information on a petition sheet.

6. The SOS now serves as the campaign finance organization for all initiatives in the state, including local initiatives.  Previously, the SOS only worked on state level measures.

7. All signature gathering companies are required to maintain and submit regular accounts showing that petitioners were paid in a manner that was not per signature but by hour/day.  This provision has caused a lot of trouble for some initiatives and may well keep some off the ballot.  It is currently being challenged in federal court, but is not expected to be successfully so.

8. All sponsors and signature gathering firms are now held personally liable for the illegal activities of anyone working for/under contract to them.  This is important because up to now only the signature gatherers themselves was liable.

Failed Ideas:

The following measures are a selection of the bad ideas that thankfully will not qualify for this year’s ballot:

Note: All Measures are listed by the Initiative Petition (IP) number.


S-Statutory Measure

C-Constitutional Measure

22-C: Would have “Made Oregon Constitutional Guarantee Of Free Expression Of Opinion Inapplicable To Conduct Or Personal Behavior”.

23-S: Would have banned any teaching that “promotes GLBT behavior” at public schools and universities.

35-S/36-C: Would have allowed building a casino on the location of the old Multnomah Greyhound track.  The State Constitution currently prohibits casino gambling outside of Indian Reservations (and has since the state’s founding).

78-C: Would have posed a supermajority requirement (3/4) on the legislature for passing a law with an emergency clause.  This is important because laws with an emergency clause are not subject to a referendum petition since they take affect immediately upon their signature by the governor.

105-S: Would have revoked the right of the federal government to own state land, would have reverted such land to the counties for ownership.  This measure was rejected by the AG’s office on the grounds that the state did not have the authority do take this action.

108-C: Would have declared that using public funds to perform abortions is murder.

112-S: Would have basically turned all state workers into federal immigration officers, requiring them to verify status of all they serve.

Measures Submitting Signatures:

This list only includes those measures that had not reached the required number of signatures before I wrote about them last.  For a list of all measures, see this diary:


Validity Rate-Percentage of Signatures found valid in previous submissions.

Required Signature Numbers: Statutory 82,769, Constitutional 110,358.


Chief Sponsor: Anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore

Summary: Requires teacher pay to be based on “performance” not seniority.

Valid Signatures Previously Submitted: 81,149.

Previous Validity Rate: 65%.

Signatures now submitted: 3,784.

Required Validity Rate: 43%.

Will it Qualify: Yes.


Chief Sponsor: Longtime loser Republican candidate Kevin Mannix.

Summary: Dedicates 15% of Lottery funds to Crime Prevention, Investigation and Prosecution efforts.

Valid Signatures Previously Submitted: 102,565.

Previous Validity Rate: 64%.

Signatures now submitted: 18,183.

Required Validity Rate: 43%.

Will it Qualify: Yes.


Chief Sponsor: Conservative Activist R. Russell Walker.

Summary: Caps Attorneys fees, a classic “tort reform measure”.

Valid Signatures Previously Submitted: 68,227

Previous Validity Rate: 64%.

Signatures now submitted: 19,129

Required Validity Rate: 76%.

Will it Qualify: Likely No.

Note: The sponsors for this measure are currently challenging the state’s new initiative requirements, especially those related to providing “accounts” for all signature gathering efforts.  As such, these recently submitted signatures should technically not count since they are not currently in compliance with the law.  However, the SOS has agreed to provisionally count them pending the outcome of the lawsuit.


Chief Sponsor: Walker.

Summary: Requires sanctioning of attorneys who file “frivolous lawsuits”.

Valid Signatures Previously Submitted: 69,263.

Previous Validity Rate: 64%.

Signatures now submitted: 19,383

Required Validity Rate: 70%.

Will it Qualify: Leans No.

Note: As with the last one, these signatures are currently presumed invalid as the sponsors are not in compliance with the initiative requirements posed by the SOS.


Chief Sponsor: Former SOS Phil Keisling (D).

Summary: Creates an “Open Primary” allowing top two, regardless of party affiliation advance to the general election in most cases.

Valid Signatures Previously Submitted: 69,383.

Validity Rate: 76%.

Signatures now submitted: 27,421.

Required Validity Rate: 49%.

Will it Qualify: Likely Yes.

Let me know what you think.