Initiatives, Referenda and Recall

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Initiatives, Referenda and Recall

The Green Party supports initiative, referendum and recall as essential direct democracy tools; and seeks to retain and enhance these important institutions.

The strength of the initiative process is that it gives citizens the ability to by-pass the legislature and act directly as legislators themselves. Through the initiative process, citizens can propose statutes and amendments to the California Constitution -- a critical option when elected officials are deemed on-responsive by their constituents. The weakness of the initiative process is the degree to which its components can be determined by big money -- from qualifying for the ballot, to waging statewide election campaigns.

Originally intended as a way for citizen voters to access the government structure, the initiative process has too often become a large-scale commercial and fundraising enterprise. It can cost millions of dollars and require a great deal of organization just to gather the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot. Then there is the private, for-profit and politically-oriented role signature-gathering companies play in determining the cost of and access to our democracy.

In response, Greens support making it easier for volunteer-based efforts to qualify initiatives and referendum; and at the same time to increase financial disclosure for ballot measures. Greens also seek ways to ensure that better drafted measures ultimately make it to the ballot.

During the election season, Greens support ensuring television and radio time for informational programming; pro/con debates for each statewide ballot measure; and contribution and spending limits for pro/con campaigns.

The Green Party proposes:

Signature Gathering

- Make it easier to qualify an initiative or referendum proposal using volunteers, by extending the number of days to qualify for the ballot for signature-gathering efforts that utilize large percentages of volunteers and stay within spending limits, and/or weigh more highly the signatures obtained utilizing volunteers

- Where is is possible to truly safeguard security, identity and privacy allow signature gathering Internet and/or other electronic technology for initiative and referendum; in such cases there may be a higher signature threshold.


- Initiative proposals should be written in language that is precise, clear, and understandable and meets standards of readability.

- Establish a mandatory pre-circulation review where initiative sponsors are required to submit draft proposals to an impartial and nonpartisan, official authority, such as the Legislative Analyst’s Office (for statewide measures), for a pre-circulation review of clarity/language, constitutionality/legality, and single subject. The opinion resulting from this pre-circulation review should be made public.

- Initiative proposals should be limited to a single subject. The definition of “single subject” should ensure clear interpretation and strict enforcement.

- Initiatives with provisions that would require funding should specify the sources or method(s) of providing the funding.

- Initiatives should include a provision providing for an automatic review/re-vote or expiration of the measure, as appropriate.

Title and Summary

- The title and summary should be written by an impartial and non-partisan official authority, such as the Legislative Analyst's Office (for statewide measures).

- Ballot pamphlet analyses of initiative and referendum measures should be written for the reading level of the average citizen.

- The ballot label and ballot pamphlet should clearly indicate the effect of a yes vote and a no vote.

Voting and Approval Thresholds

- An initiative statute, or a legislative statute appearing on the ballot as a referendum, should be approved by a simple majority of those voting on the measure.

- The approval threshold to approve an initiative constitutional amendment should be higher than a simple majority vote

- An initiative statute or constitutional amendment that imposes a new requirement for passage of future initiatives should meet the same requirement.

- An initiative statute or constitutional amendment that requires a super-majority vote for passage of future related issues should be required to receive the same super-majority vote approval for its passage.

- An initiative should not be allowed to provide for different outcomes depending upon the percentage of votes cast in its favor.

- Voting on constitutional amendments should only occur at general elections.


- Provide free time for informational television and radio information about the initiative and referendum proposals on the ballot, and broadcast any public hearings the Legislature holds/has held on the initiative proposals.

- Impose contribution and expenditure limits by individuals and groups in initiative and referendum campaigns - mandatory limits where possible by law, and voluntary when not.

- Conduct a series of televised debates featuring the yes and no sides of initiative and referendum proposals, just as there are pro/con arguments in the voter information guide - but only for campaigns accepting and operating within spending limits.


- Require that disclosure requirements that apply to mailings and advertisements in support or opposition to an initiative or referendum also apply to the ballot pamphlet and voter information guide in its written and electronic forms

- Require that the top three sponsors of an initiative or referendum and organizations that form a committee to support or oppose a measure be listed by name in the ballot pamphlet, in mailings, and in advertisements.

- Require that top three principal contributors to an initiative or referendum campaign be listed by name in the ballot pamphlet, in mailings, and in advertisements.

- Require that initiative and referendum committees use names that reflect their true economic or special interest.