Research Handbooks in Law and Economics series
Edited by Daniel A. Farber and Anne Joseph O’Connell
Chapter 4: Direct Democracy
Elizabeth Garrett1 Direct democracy encompasses two methods of providing voters with direct lawmaking authority – the initiative and the referendum – as well as a third method of directly influencing lawmakers outside of the regular electoral process – the recall. The initiative allows a certain percentage of the electorate to petition to place a statute or constitutional amendment on the ballot. With the direct initiative, the proposed statute or constitutional amendment is placed on the ballot automatically once proponents gather the required number of signatures. With the less common indirect initiative, the proposal is submitted to the legislature first so that lawmakers have an opportunity to pass the proposed law or amendment before the people vote. If the legislature fails to pass it, or adopts a significantly changed version, then the proposal is put before the people for a vote. The referendum allows the people to intervene after the legislature has acted on a proposal; in this process, voters are asked to approve or disapprove a law or constitutional amendment that the legislature has already passed. The popular referendum, like the initiative, allows the people to trigger popular consideration of an enactment through a petition drive. In the more common legislative referendum, the legislature places before the electorate a proposed law or constitutional amendment for their approval or disapproval. State constitutions may require a referendum on constitutional amendments or certain bond proposals before they can go into effect. Finally, the recall allows the people to vote on whether an elected official can continue...
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