In political science, the initiative (also known as popular or citizen's initiative) provides a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a public vote on a proposed statute, constitutional amendment, charter amendment or ordinance. It is a form of direct democracy.
The initiative may take the form of either the direct or indirect initiative. Under the direct initiative, a measure is put directly to a vote after being submitted by a petition. Under the indirect initiative, a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then only put to a popular vote if not enacted by the legislature. In United States usage, a popular vote on a specific measure is referred to as a referendum only when originating with the legislature. Such a vote is known, when originating in the initiative process, as an "initiative," "ballot measure" or "proposition."
The initiative is only available in a certain minority of jurisdictions. For example:
- The initiative has long been widely used in Switzerland, both at federal and cantonal level.
- In the United States the initiative is in use, at the level of state government, in 24 states, and is also in common use at the local and city government level. The initiative has been recognised in the US since at least 1777 when provision was made for it by the first constitution of Georgia. However, the modern US system of initiative and referendum originated in the state of Oregon in 1902, when legislators adopted it by an overwhelming majority. The "Oregon System", as it was at first known, subsequently spread to many other states. Well known US initiatives include various measures adopted by voters in states such as Washington, Oregon, and California, such as California Proposition 13, which limited real estate tax rates.
- Provision for the initiative was included in the 1922 constitution of the Irish Free State. The initiative was hastily abolished by the government, however, when republicans organised a drive to instigate a vote that would abolish the Oath of Allegiance. The Irish initiative was, therefore, never put into actual use.