[ih-nish-ee-uh-tiv, ih-nish-uh-]
initiative, the originating of a law or constitutional amendment by popular petition. It is intended to allow the electorate to initiate legislation independently of the legislature. This direct form of legislation, together with the referendum, was known in Greece and other early democracies. It is practiced in Switzerland. In the United States the initiative was recognized as early as 1777 in the first constitution of Georgia. It was subsequently adopted by a number of states and may apply also on local and city government levels. There are two kinds of initiative, direct and indirect. In both kinds of initiative a certain number of signatures (usually from 5% to 15% of the electorate in the district concerned) must appear on the petition that proposes the constitutional amendment or legislation. In direct initiative the proposed law is voted on in the next election, or in a special election, after a petition with the required number of signatures has been filed with state or local officials. In indirect initiative the petition goes directly to the legislature and reaches the people only if the legislature fails to enact it into law. In the 1990s ballot initiatives became increasingly popular as various interest groups sought to win approval of measures they supported.

See P. Schrag, Paradise Lost (1999).

In political science, the initiative (also known as popular or citizen's initiative) provides a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a public vote on a proposed statute, constitutional amendment, charter amendment or ordinance, or, in its minimal form, to simply oblige the executive or legislative bodies to consider the subject by submitting it to the order of the day. It is a form of direct democracy. It has also been referred to as "minority initiative," thus relating it to minority influence .

The initiative may take the form of either the direct or indirect initiative. Under the direct initiative, a measure is put directly to a vote after being submitted by a petition. Under the indirect initiative, a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then only put to a popular vote if not enacted by the legislature. In United States usage, a popular vote on a specific measure is referred to as a referendum only when originating with the legislature. Such a vote is known, when originating in the initiative process, as an "initiative," "ballot measure" or "proposition."

Brief history of popular initiative

The initiative is only available in a certain minority of jurisdictions. It was included in the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1891, permitting a certain number of citizens (currently 100,000) to make a request to amend a constitutional article, or even to introduce a new article into the constitution. Right of initiative is also used at the cantonal and communal level in Switzerland; many cantons allow initiatives to enact regular non-constitutional law, but the federal system does not. If the necessary number of supporters is reached, the initiative will be put to a referendum about two or three years later; the delay helps prevent short-term political moods to introduce themselves into the constitution. The parliament and government will both issue their official opinions on whether they recommend voting for or against the proposed amendment, and these opinions will be printed on the ballot. The parliament may also pass an alternative amendment suggestion which will also be included on the ballot; in this case, the voters cast two votes, one for whether or not they want an amendment, and one for which one they want, the original one from the initiative or the one introduced in parliament, in case a majority decides for amending. A citizen-proposed change to the constitution in Switzerland at the national level needs to achieve both a majority of the national popular vote and a majority of the canton-wide vote in more than half of the cantons to pass. The vast majority of national initiatives introduced since 1891 have failed to receive voter support.

Provision for the initiative was included in the 1922 constitution of the Irish Free State, but was hastily abolished when republicans organised a drive to instigate a vote that would abolish the Oath of Allegiance. The initiative also formed part of the 1920 constitution of Estonia.

Initiative in the United States

In the United States the initiative is in use, at the level of state government, in 24 states and the District of Columbia , and is also in common use at the local and city government level. The initiative has been recognized in the US since at least 1777 when provision was made for it by the first constitution of Georgia.

The modern U.S. system of initiative and referendum originated in the state of South Dakota. South Dakota adopted initiative and referendum in 1898 by a vote of 23,816 to 16,483. South Dakota is also the only state to have the idea develop on home soil without knowledge of the Swiss measure. Oregon was the second state to adopt, and did so in 1902, when the state's legislators adopted it by an overwhelming majority. The "Oregon System", as it was at first known, subsequently spread to many other states, and became one of the signature reforms of the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s). Well known U.S. initiatives include various measures adopted by voters in states such as Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Massachusetts and Alaska.

The first attempt to get National ballot initiatives occurred in 1907 when House Joint Resolution 44 was introduced by Rep. Elmer Fulton of Oklahoma. In 1977, both the Abourezk-Hatfield (National Voter Initiative) and Jagt Resolutions never got out of committee. Senator Mike Gravel (a Democratic Presidential candidate in the 2008 election) was part of that effort. Gravel since discovered a (controversial) method to get a new proposal, the National Initiative for Democracy, into the Constitution without asking Congress. Registered U.S. voters can now vote at to ratify the National Initiative, much as citizens—not the existing 13 State Legislatures—ratified the Constitution at the Constitutional conclusion.

Popular initiatives in the European Union

The rejected Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) included a limited indirect initiative right (Article I-46(4)). The proposal was that 1,000,000 citizens, from a minimal numbers of different member states, could invite the executive body of the European Union (EU), the European Commission, to consider any proposal "on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Constitution." The precise mechanism had not been agreed upon. Critics underlined the weakness of this right of initiative, which did not ultimately entail any vote or referendum.

In any case, one can make a petition to the European Parliament


A restricted, local, indirect initiative was introduced on 28 March 2003 in the French Constitution in the frame of the decentralization laws (article 72-1, référendum d'initiative locale.) However, it is only the initiative to propose to the local assembly (collectivité territoriale) the inscription of a subject to the order of the day. The local assembly then takes the decision to submit, or not, the question to popular referendum.]]


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