In 1902, Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved a legislatively referred ballot measure that created Oregon’s initiative and referendum process. In 1904, voters enacted the direct primary and, in 1908, Oregon’s Constitution was amended to allow for recall of public officials. These were the culmination of efforts by the Direct Legislation League, a group of political activists that progressive leader William S. U’Ren founded in 1898.
This system of empowering the people to propose new laws or change the Constitution of Oregon through a general election ballot measure became nationally known as “the Oregon System.”
Registered voters may place on the ballot any issue that amends the Oregon Constitution or changes the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS).
Registered voters may attempt to reject any bill passed by the Legislature by placing a referendum on the ballot.
The Legislature may refer any bill it passes to voters for approval. It must do so for any amendment to the Oregon Constitution.
Since 1902, the people have passed 127 of the 367 initiative measures placed on the ballot and 23 of the 65 referenda on the ballot. During the same period, the Legislature has referred 434 measures to the people, of which 257 have passed.
Both houses of the Legislature must vote to refer a statute or constitutional amendment for popular vote. Such referrals cannot be vetoed by the governor.
To place an initiative or referendum on the ballot, supporters must get a specified number of signatures from registered voters. The number required is determined by a fixed percentage of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for governor at the election at which a governor was elected for a term of four years, next preceding the filing of the petition. Therefore:
- Referendum petitions require 4%, or 58,789 signatures.
- Initiative petitions for statutory enactments require 6%, or 88,184 signatures.
- Initiative petitions for constitutional amendments require 8%, or 117,578 signatures.
The original constitutional amendment, passed in 1902, provided that a fixed percentage of the votes cast for justice of the Supreme Court would determine the number of signatures required to place an initiative or referendum on the ballot. Both a statutory enactment and a constitutional amendment required 8% of the votes cast, while a referendum required 5% of the votes cast. In 1954, the people amended the Oregon Constitution to increase the required number of signatures to 10% for a constitutional amendment. In 1968, a vote of the people established the current requirements.
Prior to 1954, measures on the ballot were not numbered. They are listed below in order of appearance on the ballot. The 2001 Legislature amended state law to require that ballot measure numbers not repeat in any subsequent election. Numbers assigned for each election begin with the next number after the last number assigned in the previous election.