Oregon Initiative and Referendum System

A cartoon of Initiative & Referendum with arms and legs and a smiling face points at a man walking into the Oregon Legislature.
With the caption, “Reckon You Won’t Find Much Left To Do In There, My Friend,” a​ newspaper cartoon illustrates the power of Oregon's initiative and referendum system. (The Oregonian, January 10, 1911) Enlarge Image
In 1902, progressive elements in Oregon made the state a landmark for direct democracy and the fight against corrupt government practices. That year, the electorate overwhelmingly approved a measure which enabled Oregon citizens to directly initiate amendments to the Oregon state constitution and enact new state statutes. The measure also opened ​the right of referendum, which permitted citizens to overturn laws passed by the state legislature. This process of initiative and referendum was known as the Oregon System.​

Oregon holds the record for statewide initiatives, counting 384 between 1904 and 2014. In 1908, Oregon initiatives gave voters the power to recall public officials and made it the first state with popular election of U.S. senators. In 1910, Oregonian initiatives established the first presidential primary election system in the nation. The 1912 ballot included 27 initiatives and referendums – more than any one year before or since. These included the state’s sixth and final vote on woman suffrage, which passed, making Oregon one of two states where women gained the right to vote by initiative.​

Next: Arguments in 1912 For and Against Woman Suffrage >​​​