BY MALIA HILL – Ballotpedia tells us that pretty much the last time the initiative and referendum process got any support from the major parties in Hawaii was in 1907.
That’s when the Democratic Territorial Convention passed a resolution in favor of Initiative and Referendum. The sentiment didn’t last.
Since then, both parties have been hostile to the notion, and multiple efforts (including one at the 1978 constitutional convention) to include a referendum process in the state constitution have come to naught.
Of course, we, the public, still occasionally get to vote on things that the legislature refers to us, but our ability to generate ballot initiatives is limited and controlled by the legislature, and ergo, the major parties.
Other states have all sorts of referendum rights, and are working to expand the influence of voter initiatives. Perhaps we can take some inspiration from the recent federal court victory that knocked down yet another obstacle to petitions, which are one of the best checks that the People can hold over government excesses:
Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge, a national voter rights group focused on the ballot initiative and referendum process, applauded yesterday’s federal court ruling striking down Nebraska’s restriction on non-resident petition circulators in the case Citizens in Charge v. Gale.
In his ruling, Judge Joseph Bataillon found that prohibiting non-residents from collecting signatures harmed the ability of citizens to use the state’s initiative, referendum, recall, and minor political party ballot access systems by substantially increasing the cost. The judge noted that no measure had made the state ballot “since the restriction had been put in place.”
“Nebraska is unique in that the people, through the initiative, make up the second chamber of the legislature,” Jacob pointed out. “For one chamber to so restrict and hamper the other that it can’t even function is unprecedented. Judge Bataillon’s ruling is a big victory for Nebraska voters.”
Jacob was disappointed that Judge Bataillon did not strike down the “scarlet letter” provision that requires petition forms to have printed in bold red type whether the petition is being circulated by a paid person or a volunteer. Ruling in a separate case, Bernbeck v. Gale, Judge Bataillon upheld a provision of state election law banning pay based on the number of signatures gathered, citing a prior ruling in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Unfortunately, the ban on productivity pay remains a substantial barrier to any Nebraskan petitioning her or his government, dramatically increasing the cost and difficulty,” Jacob added. “A similar law in Colorado has been enjoined by a federal judge as likely to be found unconstitutional.”