Initiatives, Referendum, and Oregon



My Country – When Oregon Adopted Initiatives and Referendum

On June 2, 1902, Oregon amended its Constitution to allow for the initiative and referendum process. It gave people the power to propose and enact laws independently of the legislature. In addition, it could reject laws that the legislature enacted.

By 1954, Justice Douglas writes that the initiative was used in proposing 198 measures (75 adopted, 123 rejected) and the referendum was used 44 times (26 approved, 18 rejected).

It used the initiative to get:

  • a direct primary,
  • a recall of public officials,
  • women’s suffrage
  • a state income tax
  • reapportionment of the legislature
  • prohibition of the use of convict labor in private industry
  • the creation of public utility districts and
  • World War II bonuses for veterans.

The citizens used the referendum power to repeal the enaction of a sales tax five times (by 1954) and a cigarette tax four times (also by 1954). Today, Oregon still has no sales tax but does tax cigarettes ($1.32 on each pack of cigarettes)

Oregon Measures in the 2016 Election

Voters approved five out of seven measures.

  • Oregon voters approved Measure 95, which allowed public state universities to invest in equities.
  • The government must devote 1.5% of state lottery net proceeds towards veterans’ services based on Measure 96 was approved.
  • Measure 98 required state funding for dropout-prevention and career and college readiness programs in Oregon high schools.
  • Outdoor school programs also get a bump from state lottery proceeds from Measure 99 which created an “Outdoor School Education Fund.”
  • Measure 100 prohibited the sale of products from and parts of 12 species of endangered animals.

However, they also rejected two.

  • Voters rejected Measure 94,  which would have repealed the mandatory judicial retirement age, which was set at 75 years old.
  • Measure 97 would have raised corporate taxes on businesses with annual sales that exceed $25 million.



The Process Today

To qualify an initiative for the next regularly scheduled general election, chief petitioners begin by filing Form SEL310. Then petitioners must gather and submit 1,000 sponsorship signatures. At that point, the Elections Division forwards the text of the prospective petition to the attorney general for the drafting of a ballot title, which impartially summarizes the petition and its major effect.

Next, chief petitioners may begin gathering signatures once the ballot title process is complete and they have received written approval to circulate. Lastly, the petitioners must make sure they meet all legal requirements and guidelines for circulating an initiative petition. For a constitutional initiative, Oregon requires 8% (117,578) of valid signatures based on previous voter turnout. For a statutory initiative, Oregon requires 6% (88,184) of valid signatures. Petitioners must submit signatures to the Elections Division for verification no later than four months prior to the date of the next regularly scheduled general election.

For a Statewide Referendum, everything is very similar. But they need all their signatures no later than 90 days after the legislature adjourns. Additionally, they need four percent (58,789) of valid signatures (based on the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election).

The Concept of Referendum

Overall, I’m not the biggest fan of direct democracy. I think it fans the flames of anger and that a republic form of government works well. But the organization in Oregon makes sense. The initiatives don’t need to become law and the referendum takes away laws the people don’t like. People have one check on the government automatically: voting them out. But with our current system so defined by incumbency, having a second check makes sense. Additionally, it seems like a hard process. A petition needs to start and all of those signatures need to occur. All with the government watching over their shoulders.

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