Citizens in Charge Foundation — a transpartisan national voter rights group focused on the ballot initiative and referendum process — has released its 2010 Report Card on Statewide Voter Initiative Rights. Those familiar with Kansas will not be surprised to learn that our state scores poorly, as do many other states.
Why are initiative and referendum rights important? The report’s introduction tell us:
As governments have grown at local, metropolitan, state, and federal levels, the power of entrenched factions has also grown, vis-à-vis the citizenry. Traditional representative government has proven unreliable in restraining itself constitutionally, often to the point of uniting all branches of America’s distributed powers against the very people it was meant to serve. Institutions of direct democracy have evolved to help restore this balance of power, in effect fulfilling a basic promise of republican governance: The right to petition government. Initiative and referendum thus serve as an expansion and perfection of one of the most basic principles of a limited republic.
About Kansas, the report says: “Kansas citizens do not have any statewide initiative and referendum rights. A majority of state citizens do enjoy local initiative and referendum rights.”
The local rights referred to are limited. The bar for local I&R in Kansas is set pretty high, and it’s difficult to exercise these rights.
The reports says that Kansas should do these things:
- Allow citizens to propose state constitutional amendments.
- Allow citizens to propose state laws.
- Allow citizens to put acts passed by the legislature to a referendum vote.
Kansas Governor Joan Finney pushed for initiative and referendum in 1991, but the measures, which require amending the Kansas Constitution, failed to get the required two-thirds vote in the Kansas House of Representatives.