Madison, Wisconsin: The Lucy Burns Institute has released a new publication titled “Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with clipboards, conversations, and campaigns”. The guide, written by Lucy Burns Institute President Leslie Graves, provides an overview of how individuals can use the ballot initiative process at the local level.
A local ballot initiative is a form of direct democracy. It is a procedure by which local voters directly propose laws. It bypasses the governing body of the local unit of government – whether that is a county, city, village or other local unit of government – by directly voting on the proposed law at the ballot box. Although only 24 states allow statewide initiative and referendum, every state except Indiana and Wyoming has some cities that allow ballot initiatives to decide city issues and laws.
Graves explained her motivation for writing the booklet: “People across the country are frustrated with public officials. They aren’t always aware that they have access to certain tools for change, like the the local ballot initiative. This guide is intended to promote awareness of the existence of this tool and allow citizens to become more engaged in the democratic process.”
The case of Glenn Vodhanel, who initiated a successful 2012 local ballot measure in Brea, CA, highlights the value of the local initiative. Frustrated with the salary of the City Manager in Brea, Vodhanel and other citizens talked with local government officials about improving government transparency and efficiency. When Vodhanel felt as if he’d hit a dead end using that method, he learned about a ballot measure in a nearby city and decided to pursue that route. Together with a group of local citizens, Vodhanel collected enough signatures on petitions to place two reform measures on the November 2012 ballot. One measure set forth new provisions ensuring local government transparency, and the other set a cap on salaries for certain city officials. Reflecting back on his efforts, Vodhanel said, “the thing I learned years and years ago is that local government is probably the easiest to have an impact on.”