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State of Washington. It contains the components that we feel are essential in our own State constitutional provisions. Those are the restrictions of the initiative process to the enactment of laws as opposed to the amendment of the Constitution, a limitation on the time of circulation of these signatures, a deadline for the submission of signatures adequately in advance of the election, a limitation on the time for verification of the signatures, and a limitation on the subsequent amendment of that initiative by a regular legislative action.
I would concur with some of the other testimony that has been given that it is an essential feature of this constitutional amendment as any other that it be accompanied by implementing legislation which truly facilitates its purposes rather than hindering them. If we can help the committee in that regard in any way in the future we would be happy to do it.
I would also be happy to answer any questions you might have about our experience with it or any of the characteristics of the process that we might be able to speak to.
Senator HATCH. Thank you for your testimony. Would you agree that the need for the initiative at the State level may be greater than at the Federal because State legislatures in most cases meet for only short periods of time, and in a few cases don't even meet every year?
Mr. WHITING. That might be true in some cases. I would have to say that in the State of Washington that is definitely not the case. Our legislature had had the problem of meeting in extremely long sessions recently.
Senator HATCH. You have to admit that in many States that is the case, right, as I mentioned?
Mr. WHITING. Yes.
I'm not familiar enough with some of those States so I probably couldn't answer that.
Senator HATCH. The point is that although it works well on the State level it may not work on a national level and may create more problems than it solves. Right now we're speculating. There is no question about it.
Mr. WHITING. I'll agree there is a certain amount of judgment and obviously it is going to be probably that factor and the question of the threshold level of signatures for the initiative process that are the two most difficult things that the committee will have to deal with in this proposal.
I personally feel that the experience is that States which have had the initiative process for a long time, where it has become a routine part of the political tradition, you might say in that State, I think that experience is relatively applicable to the Federal situation. I think that the committee can rely on the kinds of issues that have been dealt with at the State level to reflect the kinds of issues that would likely be dealt with at the Federal level.
Senator HATCH. I thank you so much for your testimony. We appreciate your taking the time to be with us and to enlighten us on your experience in Washington. We thank you for being here. Mr. WHITING. Thank you.
[The prepared statement and exhibit entitled "The Initiative in Washington: 1914-1974," submitted by Mr. Whiting follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF DON WHITING, ELECTION SUPERVISOR,
The power of popular initiative, similar to the process proposed in Senate Joint Resolution 67, was adopted as an amendment to the constitution of Washington state in 1912. We wish to relate some information about the historical experience of Washington state with the initiative process which we feel may help the committee in evaluating the effectiveness of this form of direct legislation.
Since 1912, four hundred and seven (407) different initiative proposals have been filed with the Secretary of State. Of this number, only eighty-four (84) have secured a sufficient number of valid signatures to be referred to a vote of the people or to the state Legislature for its consideration. (Washington state has both the direct and indirect forms of the initiative.) Forty-four (44) of these initiative proposals were approved, either by the electorate or the Legislature, and forty (40) of them were rejected. The immediate impression is that it is reasonably difficult, but far from prohibitively complicated, to qualify an initiative to appear on the ballot and that securing enough signatures to qualify for the ballot is no guarantee that the measure will be approved by the voters. It is particularly instructive to examine the subject matters of the initiatives which have qualified for the ballot. As an example, the following seventeen initiatives have appeared on the ballot in Washington since 1970:
These measures were all substantial questions of public policy at the time they were proposed. They were usually broad measures affecting the public generally; they were seldom the product of a single, special interest group and none were frivolous or inconsequential. These initiatives can be grouped into four convenient categories by subject: 1) taxation and revenue, 2) commerce and business, 3) environmental protection, and 4) questions of public morality of "lifestyle" issues. The diversity of these categories indicates that the initiative process in Washington state is equally available to a variety of interest groups, permanent and temporary, whose concerns range across both the political and philosophical spectrums. A much more complete and authoritative survey of the subject matter of initiatives in Washington state was published by Dr. Hugh A. Bone, Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington, and Mr. Robert C. Benedict. A copy of their article from the Western Political Quarterly has been furnished to the staff of the committee for reference purposes.
The initiatives attract substantial interest among the voters of Washington state, independently of other candidates and issues which appear on the general election ballot. In 1973, Washington state held its first state general election in an odd-numbered year. Prior to this time, the only offices which appeared on the odd-year election ballot were municipal and special district positions; the turnout for these elections statewide averaged between forty and forty-five percent.
In 1973, the addition of the statewide measures to the ballot boosted the turnout to nearly fifty-eight percent; among the measures, the initiatives typically received the most attention and the greater number of votes were cast on these issues.
We also wish to relate to the Subcommittee some information on our experience in verifying the signatures on initiative petitions. In Washington, this verification is done centrally from a file of voter regislation records maintained by the Secretary of State. In many other states, the verification of such signatures would have to be done by local election officials but the process should be essentially the same. A comparison of the numbers of signatures verified and the cost of verification during the last three years indicates an average cost of twenty-one and a half cents (21.5¢) per signature verified. Assuming that these costs are fairly typical, the total cost for verification of an initiative containing three and one-half million signatures should be about $750,000; an initiative with five million signatures could be verified for approximately $1,000,000. It would substantially improve the potential for the approval of this proposed constitutional amendment by state legislatures if the Congress were to indicate a willingness to compensate states and local jurisdictions for these costs of verifying signatures on initiative petitions.
Several states, including Washington, publish and distribute to each voter or voting residence a booklet or pamphlet containing information on the state measures which will be appearing on the ballot at an upcoming state general election. We have furnished the committee staff with a supply of such pamphlets from recent elections in Washington State for reference purposes. If the proposed amendment to the federal constitution is approved, we feel that states should be encouraged to include information on federal initiative proposals in their publications. Congress might even consider permitting the postage-free distribution of such materials, in the same way that absentee voting materials are currently being sent to armed services personnel and their dependents.
On the whole, the provisions of the proposed resolution should provide a workable and effective process by which laws can be proposed and approved or rejected by the electorate. The proposal contains those features which we have found to be essential in the administration of similar provisions in Washington state: the restriction of the initiative process to the enactment of laws (as opposed to constitutional amendments and other actions which the Congress may have the authority to take), a limitation on the amount of time during which signatures may be collected in support of a given initiative proposal, a limitation on the amount of time for the verification of signatures, a deadline for the submission of signatures for verification sufficiently in advance of the election, and a limitation on the subsequent amendment of laws enacted by initiative. The successful administration of this amendment will also depend on the enactment of effective implementing statutes which facilitate rather than burden the operation of the initiative petition process itself.
[EXHIBIT No. 12]
[From Washington Public Policy Notes, Institute of Governmental Research, University of Washington, Vol. 2, No. 4-October 1974]
THE INITIATIVE IN WASHINGTON: 1914-1974
Washington has now completed 60 years of experience with the popular initiation of laws. This article focuses on several aspects of the use of the initiative in the state. With few exceptions, a statewide level of analysis using aggregate voting results is employed. Space limitations forbid a consideration of the long debated theoretical and practical arguments for and against popular initiative.' At the outset it may be mentioned that Washington is one of 21 states providing for popular initiation of state statutes. It is one of only three states along with Ohio and Utah which permit voters to use both an indirect and direct
1 Dr. Bone is a professor of political science at the University of Washington.
An extensive review of the theory and practice of the initiative and referendum, prepared by the author, is forthcoming in the autumn of 1974. It will be published by the National Municipal League, New York City, under the title "The Initiative and Referendum in the United States."
process to enact laws. The indirect provision used by seven states permits a proposed law to go to the legislature first for disposition: if the legislature enacts the law, no further action is needed; if the legislature amends or turns down the law, the original initiative and a legislative alternative, if there is one, go before the voters. The direct initiative bypasses the legislature and submits a proposition directly to the voters. The signature requirement for both types in Washington is eight percent of those voting for governor at the preceding election. The people may also require a referendum on any measure, other than emergency legislation, that has been passed by the legislature; this requires a four percent signature petition.
Although 18 other states having the statutory initiative mechanism also permit voters to initiate constitutional amendments, Washington does not. In a great many states, propositions emanating from the voters may appear on direct primary and special election as well as general election ballots. Washington limits presentation to general elections, and until 1973 measures could appear only in even-numbered general elections.
EXTENT OF USE
In quantitative terms Washington rates behind only California, North Dakota, and Oregon in the total number of initiatives actually appearing on the ballot. TABLE 1 presents a summary comparison of the origin and disposition of the four types of laws presented to the voters. It will be noticed that there are many more 'starts' than finishes, with about one fourth of the direct initiatives failing to obtain enough signatures to get on the ballot. Once the initiatives have been placed on the ballot, the adoption rate is better than 50 percent for indirect initiatives and 47 percent for direct initiatives. This rate exceeds that for any other state. In Oregon, only 33 percent received approval and in California up to 1967 only 38 percent passed.
TABLE 1.-INITIATIVES AND REFERENDA, STARTS AND DISPOSITIONS; 1914-73
One or two other characteristics of the extent of use are not apparent from the table. Looking at two equal time periods, approximately the same number of direct initiatives appeared from 1914 to 1942 as have appeared since 1942. Even after 1956 when signature requirements were raised from 50,000 to eight percent of the votes cast for governor, the number of initiatives on the ballot did not decline. The pattern of use in nearly all other states shows a considerably greater number proposed prior to rather than after World War II. In contrast, twice as many referenda demanded by Washington voters found their way to the ballot before 1942 as subsequently. Concisely, initiative use in Washington has remained constant and has not diminished in the last three decades. One or more have been on almost every ballot while the number of petition referenda has declined. The latter was used frequently in earlier years as a corrective for what many groups of voters regarded as 'reactionary' legislation. The persistence of initiatives as against demanded referenda appears to be a reflection of legislative inaction. This is especially true in areas of reapportionment, liquor policies, and political-governmental reform. Special interests have frequently been successful in bottling up proposals for change in committees or defeating them on the floor of the legislature. As the legislature satisfactorily accommodates demands for change, a decline in the number of initiatives finding their way to the ballot may be expected.
An increasing interest in ballot issues is taking place in Washington and elsewhere, coupled with a slow decline in the overall turnout in elections. A
small number of registered voters are actually voting. (In 1960, 80.71 percent of the registered voters actually voted; this declined to 76.96 percent in 1972.) At the same time a larger percentage of those voting take the trouble to vote on propositions of all types, noncontroversial as well as controversial. Since 1960, the electorate is showing much greater overall interest in issues, including those on the ballot.
Falloff, that is those voting in the election but failing to vote on a particular proposition, follows a pattern of least for initiatives, greater for referenda, and greatest for constitutional amendments. In 1972, for example, respective average falloff was 8.6 percent for direct initiatives, 14 percent for referenda, and 19.2 percent on constitutional amendments.
This is the order in which propositions appear on the ballot-the well known phenomenon of 'ballot fatigue.' But ballot ordering is probably not the major variable explaining turnout. Initiatives generate the greatest interest during the campaign; frequently there is little extensive campaigning for referenda and amendments. Opposing argument in the voters pamphlet are often missing for the last two, while spirtied arguments for and against initiatives are always present. Many referenda and amendments are technical and noncontroversial and no one has been found to write arguments against them.
As might be expected, substantial variation occurs in turnout for different types of propositions. TABLE 2 shows the average falloff in initiatives and petition referenda by subject since 1914 when they were first used. Far more people vote on personal and morals issues than for governmental projects and structural changes.
Although turnout for initiatives falls below that for governor and lieutenant governor, it compares favorably with most other statewide offices and tends to run well ahead of the superintendent of public instruction and the state commissioners. Initiatives do surprisingly well in comparison with the vote for U.S. congressmen. They have outpolled the total vote for congressmen more than 30 percent of the time and have been within three percent in another 15 percent of the cases.
TABLE 2.-Electoral falloffs by policy area 1917-73
It is also interesting to observe that the odds for passage of initiatives are better in presidential than in midterm elections. Fifty-four percent have carried in presidential and 44 percent in the mid-term elections.
Examination of a sample of punch card ballots in Southwest Washington reveals the interesting voting phenomenon that straight Democratic and Republican voters have a considerably higher turnout for candidates than for ballot measures. There is also a slightly greater falloff among Democratic than Republican straight ticket voters. Conversely, the more independent, split-ticket voters have a greater falloff for candidates but a larger turnout for propositions. One may speculate that the independent voters have a greater interest and willingness than straight ticket voters to examine the alternatives posed by ballot issues. The voting pattern also suggests the need for proponents and opponents of initiatives to make stronger appeals to the loyal partisans. Finally there is some evidence that independents tend to favor change or react more liberally to propositions than do the stronger partisans. In view of the limited sample, however, all the findings reported in this paragraph should be regarded as tentative rather than established conclusions.