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States Tighten Rules On Initiatives As Citizens Face More Hurdles

Report reveals increasing difficulty for campaigns to qualify and pass initiatives and referendums


ANNANDALE,VA – JUNE 20: Robert Brockway, of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, fills out a ballot at the Annandale Fire Department polling station in Annandale, Va., on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. (Photo by Minh Connors/The Washington Post via Getty Images) 

States are making it harder for campaigns to qualify and pass initiatives and referendums

A detailed multi-year report was published on state legislation affecting the initiative, referendum, and recall processes. The analysis showed a consistent trend: lawmakers are making it tougher for citizens to use and approve ballot measures.

Between 2018 and 2023, state legislators introduced a total of 1,787 pieces of legislation related to the initiative, referendum, and recall processes. Legislators passed 194 (10.9%) of those bills and resolutions. 

Of these, 42 (21.7%) made the initiative, referendum, and recall processes more difficult–an average of seven per year.

By comparison, legislators passed 13 bills or resolutions (6.7%) to make the processes less difficult between 2018 and 2023–an average of two per year. 

Additionally, changes to make processes easier were usually small adjustments compared to the bigger changes to make the process more difficult. 

The year with the most enacted bills or resolutions that made processes more difficult was 2021, when 13 pieces of legislation were passed. The years with the fewest were 2022 and 2020, when four such pieces of legislation were passed. 

In 2023, five bills or resolutions that would make the initiative, referendum, and recall processes more difficult have been enacted, while three that would make the processes easier have been enacted.

From 2018 to 2023, South Dakota passed the most pieces of legislation (10) that made or would make the ballot initiative process more difficult. The other states that passed more than two such bills were Arizona (6), Arkansas (5), and Florida (5). 

The states that have passed the most bills or resolutions making the process easier are Maine and Oregon, each with two pieces of legislation.

  • From 2018 to 2023, state legislators introduced an average number of 298 bills and resolutions related to initiative, referendum, and recall per year. The number ranged from 218 in 2020 to 369 in 2021.
  • Since 2018, state governments have enacted an average of 32 such bills and resolutions per year. The number ranged from 17 in 2020 to 44 in 2019.
  • Of the 194 pieces of legislation that passed between 2018 and 2023, 18 were constitutional amendments requiring voter ratification. Since 2018, voters have decided eight legislatively referred amendments to make the process more difficult. Voters approved three (37.5%) and defeated five (62.5%).
  • Of the 42 bills or resolutions that made the initiative, referendum, and recall processes more difficult, 37 (88.1%) had Republican majorities in state legislatures, and four (9.5%) had Democratic majorities. One (2.4%) passed with bipartisan support.


Joe Biden’s approval rating is 42% at end of July. Approval polling averages at the end of July showed President Joe Biden (D) with a 42% approval rating. Fifty-four percent of voters, meanwhile, disapproved of his performance. These were the same ratings Biden received in June.

Throughout July, Biden’s approval rating remained at 42%, except for a two-day rating of 43% on July 13 and July 14. The lowest approval rating he’s received during his presidency is 38%, last seen on July 27, 2022. The highest approval rating Biden has received is 55%, last seen on May 26, 2021.

Congressional approval, meanwhile, was at 25% at the end of July, while disapproval was at 61%. The highest approval rating the 118th Congress has received is 33%, last seen on April 21, 2023, and the lowest approval rating it received is 19%, last seen on July 21, 2023.

At this point during the Trump administration, presidential approval was two points higher at 44%, and congressional approval was five points lower at 20%.

Zenger News’s polling index takes the average of polls conducted over the last thirty days to calculate presidential and congressional approval ratings. We average the results and show all polling results side-by-side because we believe that paints a clearer picture of public opinion than any individual poll can provide. The data is updated daily as new polling results are published.


OIRA reviewed 55 significant rules in July. In July 2023, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) reviewed 55 significant regulatory actions issued by federal agencies. OIRA approved three of these rules with no changes and approved the intent of 50 rules while recommending changes to their content. Two rules were withdrawn from the review process by the issuing agency. 

​​OIRA is responsible for reviewing and coordinating what it deems to be all significant regulatory actions made by federal agencies, with the exception of independent federal agencies. 

Significant regulatory actions include agency rules that have had or may have a large impact on the economy, environment, public health, or state and local governments and communities. These regulatory actions may also conflict with other regulations or the president’s priorities.


Looking at previous years, OIRA reviewed 47 significant regulatory actions in July 2022, 43 in July 2021, and 73 in July 2020. 

OIRA has reviewed a total of 323 significant rules in 2023. The agency reviewed 485 significant rules in 2022, 502 in 2021, and 676 in 2020. 

As of Aug. 1, 2023, OIRA’s website listed 120 regulatory actions under review.


Produced in association with Ballotpedia

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