Initiatives, part of the American electoral process, are a way of allowing citizens to initiate changes within the American political structure. Initiatives, like referendums and recall elections, are seen as an extension of democracy in the political process of America.
Initiatives allow those citizens, who are interested, to propose legislative and constitutional changes. To start the process, those concerned need to get a certain number of registered voters who live within their electoral district to support their proposal. This varies from state to state but is usually between 5% to 15% of registered voters.
Once the required number of supporters is gained and the process of gaining those signatures is accepted by the state legislature, people within the electoral district can vote on that proposal.
Two types of initiative exist.
A direct initiative is where registered voters vote on the proposal put forward.
An indirect initiative is where the state legislature will vote on the proposal put forward. If the legislature does not approve the proposal, it then goes to the public (registered voters only) for a vote.
The process of an initiative does extend the whole democratic process in America as it allows for the public’s participation in formulating or changing legislation after the election of local/state government officials.
Nearly half of all states allow both forms of initiatives. Twenty states allow initiatives to be used in the formulation of laws while 17 states allow the process to be used for attempts to changed their constitution. Initiatives are state to state concerns as the Federal Constitution does not provide for a national initiative. One of the more common reasons for citizens to push for a vote via an initiative involves the reduction of state taxes.
The Supreme Court (in 1988) has given its backing to concerned groups to pay those people employed to circulate petitions which are handed out in an exercise to encourage voters to support what the proposal (petition) is pushing for. Previous to 1988, some states forbade the payment of those involved in the circulation of flyers, information documents etc.