* An initiative is a proposed law or resolution placed on the ballot as the result of a petition drive among registered voters. It is then voted on by the electorate.
* A referendum is a decision by the
legislature that is put to the electorate to approve or reject.
This is done in response to a citizen petition, a decision by the
state legislature or a state constitutional requirement.
* A constitutional amendment is placed on the
ballot by the legislature or by the electorate through a petition
Each state has its own quirky and tricky
laws regarding ballot proposals: In Arizona, for example, each
petition can only have 15 signatures per page or all names are
declared null. Some states require signatures from a percentage of
voters in every region, sending signature gatherers into rural
areas. Others, like Colorado, just need a percentage of the voters
in the last gubernatorial race, freeing up signature gatherers to
concentrate on the more populated urban areas.
This November, voters around the country will vote on 93 statewide
ballot measures, after 488 petition attempts. This is up from 1994,
when 509 petition attempts yielded only 76 ballot measures for
public votes. Only 25 passed. Initiatives and referenda have always
been difficult processes to put into practice. In 1898, South
Dakota became the first state to allow what has been called "direct
democracy," but ballot measures weren't used until 1904, when
Oregonians voted on an initiative to allow counties to ban the sale
Understanding a ballot question is
often an exercise in interpreting jargon. Ballot measures are
notorious for being confusing, wordy and vague, sometimes even
leading people to vote "yes' when they mean "no."