If you live in Oregon, you will want to understand the differences between initiatives, referenda, and referrals and how they make it to a ballot. This lesson explores how they have been used throughout Oregon’s history and how they can be used now to effect change.
55 minute class period
Understand the differences between an initiative, referendum, and referral and how they make it to a ballot. Additionally students will learn how these have been used throughout Oregon’s history and how these can be used by voters to effect change.
HS.28: Evaluate how governments interact at the local, state, tribal, national, and global levels.
HS.29: Examine the structures and functions of Oregon’s state, county, local and regional governments.
HS.57: Define, research, and explain an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon and its significance to society.
HS.59: Demonstrate the skills and dispositions needed to be a critical consumer of information.
HS.61: Analyze an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon, identifying characteristics, influences, causes, and both short- and long-term effects.
HS.63: Engage in informed and respectful deliberation and discussion of issues, events, and ideas.
Oregon Common Core State Standards
Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies
1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
2: Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies
1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Theme VI: Power, Authority, and Governance; X: Civic Ideals and Practices
- Teacher background handout Lesson 8
- Student Handout: “Initiative, Referendum and Referral”
- Oregon Blue Book: Election History, Initiative, Referendum, and Referral Introduction: https://stage-sos.oregon.gov/blue-book/Pages/state/elections/history.aspx
- Ask students the following questions: What new law should be passed in Oregon? Why? What law should not be in Oregon? Why?
- Discuss with class that making and altering laws is something voters have the power to do (initiative).
- Define: Initiative, Referendum, Referral
- Research in Blue Book: compare/contrast the three (Note: could use the provided Oregon Blue Book link or the student handout).
- Discuss historical instances and impact (i.e. effectiveness/ineffectiveness). For example, approving the use of medical marijuana within limits – effective/ineffective? Why/why not? (Note: students can go to the “Oregon Blue Book: Oregon Election History Page” to access links for historical instances.)
- Write persuasive arguments and a petition for an initiative, and then attempt to get people to sign petition. When writing the initiative persuasive argument, the following areas should be addressed:
- Why is the initiative important?
- What would the initiative provide?
- Who would be benefited?
- What are some potential hazards of this initiative and how would they be alleviated?
- How much would implementation of the initiative cost?
Compare Oregon initiative, referendum, or referral to grassroots campaign in another state. Each student could take a different state and do a poster depicting that state’s initiative, referendum, or referral (for example, immigration in Arizona, class size amendment in Florida).
Teacher Background Handout
Initiative: Registered voters may place on the ballot any issue that amends the Oregon Constitution or changes the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS).
Referendum: Registered voters may attempt to reject any bill passed by the Legislature by placing a referendum on the ballot.
Referral: The Legislature may refer any bill it passes to voters for approval. It must do so for any amendment to the Oregon Constitution.
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 124 of the 363 initiative measures placed on the ballot and 23 of the 65 referenda on the ballot. During the same period, the Legislature has referred 430 measures to the people, of which 254 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 obtain a specified number of signatures from registered voters. The number required is determined by a fixed percentage of the votes cast for all candidates for governor at the general election preceding the filing of the petition. In the 2014 General Election, 1,469,717 votes were cast for governor. 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. 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.