Canadians for
 Direct Democracy (CDD)

Direct Democracy -- the right of citizens
to hold referenda on any issue


A review of the Oregon ballot since 1976

Sunday, August 13, 2000
By Paul Voakes of The Oregonian staff

by E-mail from

M Dane Waters mdanewaters@iandrinstitute.org Initiative & Referendum Institute 1825 I Street, NW, Suite 400 Washington, DC 20006 http://www.iandrinstitute.org and http://www.ballotwatch.org

As most of you are aware, when the voters reach the polls on November 7th not only will they be voting for the next president of the United States, but they will also be casting their vote on a myriad of ballot questions. The voters in at least 38 states will be voting on over 180 statewide ballot measures (a number that could move up or down based on additional legislative action, court rulings and the sufficiency of signatures on citizen initiatives). Almost 70 of these issues (about 39%) were placed on the ballot by the people using the initiative process and the other 110 (61%) were put on the ballot by the legislature. A complete listing of these measures will be available in the September issue of Campaigns & Elections Magazine as well as on our website at http://www.ballotwatch.org.

Of the 70 initiatives that will most likely make the ballot, 18 of them (25%) will be on Oregon's ballot alone. The following article from the Oregonian gives some very good historical insight into Oregon's storied initiative process and provides an interesting analysis of the typical arguments raised against the initiative process.

I hope you find it of interest.

Dane Waters


For every initiative, there's a myth

A review of the Oregon ballot since 1976 reveals that little of what's been said about the citizen-driven process is true

Sunday, August 13, 2000 By Paul Voakes of The Oregonian staff

So you think you've heard it all about Oregon's initiative system? Try this true-false quiz:

o Initiatives have been passing like crazy the last few years.

o Spending on initiatives has skyrocketed.

o Initiatives are an easy way for wealthy individuals to make their pet ideas law.

o Conservatives are more successful with initiatives than liberals.

All true

?In fact, only one claim -- that spending has skyrocketed -- holds up.

The test is for fun. But at a time when Oregon seems to have gone initiative wild, it shows that there is much to learn -- and relearn -- about the century-old system of direct democracy that so dominates our politics.

Voters will consider 18 citizen initiatives on the Nov. 7 ballot, the most since 1914, and no state has used the initiative more frequently in the last quarter-century.

The surge in popularity of the initiatives has fostered a backlash, mainly from politicians and some citizens who say it short-circuits the more deliberative process of making laws in the Legislature.

A tempest of claims and assumptions accompanies the criticism, but are many of them valid

?To find out, The Oregonian decided to look more closely at the 99 initiatives that have been on the ballot since 1976, when post-Watergate reforms ushered in laws that made campaign contributors public.

We built a database, logging such things as campaign spending, the level of big-donor support, whether each measure had conservative or liberal backing, and how many had passed.

And to help spot trends, we divided the quarter-century into periods: post-Watergate (1976-1982), the years after courts allowed paid signature gathering (1984-1990), and the years since passage of the landmark property tax limit Measure 5 in 1990.

What did we find? Here are eight often-heard observations about the initiative system -- and how they hold up under historical scrutiny.

1 -- "Initiatives are passing like crazy the last several years."

Not true. They actually enjoyed a greater success rate in the '80s than in the '90s.

In the post-Watergate period, 28 percent of the initiatives on the ballot passed. That shot up to 45 percent in the middle period but declined to 40 percent in the past four election cycles.

Of course, more initiatives are hitting the ballot than ever, so more are becoming law or part of the state constitution than ever before.

The average number of initiatives per election increased from 4.5 in the early period to 12 in the '90s. And the pace seems to be quickening. Since 1994, we've averaged 14 initiatives per November election, not counting this year's crop.

Donald Stabrowski, a political scientist at the University of Portland, sees the increase as part of a long cycle that dates back almost 100 years, when Oregon became one of the first states to adopt the initiative system.

"Usually when there's dissatisfaction with elected officials you get this frequency," Stabrowski says. "We go through these ups and downs, and we're probably at a peak right now. At some point soon, it will all start seeming too expensive, and the results won't be as satisfying as people want them to be."

2 -- "Spending on initiative campaigns has skyrocketed."

True. "Skyrocket" might be a bit strong, but there's no doubt that campaign spending is up -- way up.

Adjusted for inflation to today's dollars, the average spent per initiative nearly doubled from $862,000 in the late '70s to $1.7 million in the '90s.

All political spending is up, of course. But the increase for Oregon initiatives is more dramatic. Spending nationally on congressional campaigns rose about 60 percent during the same period, as did spending on Oregon's statewide and legislative races.

Though average spending per initiative fell slightly in 1998, to $1.6 million, no one is predicting a downward trend.

Sean Smith, a political consultant who worked on this year's failed initiative to repeal the death penalty, said he's surprised that spending on initiatives hasn't risen even more quickly.

"Connecting to voters has become a lot more difficult," Smith said. "Especially with all these initiatives, it simply costs more to be heard above the din of all the other choices voters have."

3 -- "Initiatives are an easy way for wealthy individuals to turn pet ideas into state law."

Not quite. During the last 25 years, the major financial players have been corporations, not wealthy individuals.

The Oregonian looked up each campaign donation of $25,000 or more to identify the biggest contributors, then determined whether the money came from individuals, labor unions, nonprofits or corporations. Overall, individuals accounted for only 7 percent of these big checks. Corporations accounted for 42 percent.

Wealthy individuals such as George Soros, the international financier who helped bankroll 1998's medical marijuana measure, are usually playing offense by proposing initiatives that shake up the status quo. Corporations are typically playing defense -- and these opponents are overwhelmingly the side with deeper pockets.

Over the quarter century studied, campaign committees urging "yes" votes spent $18.5 million. Committees urging "no" votes have spent nearly $68 million, and the gap has grown larger over time.

Of all those large donations made to defeat initiatives, more than half came from businesses.

4 -- "The courts are overturning citizen initiatives far more often."

Not really. The rate has increased in 25 years but not drastically.

In the early and middle periods, courts overturned 20 percent of the successful measures, either in whole or in part. In the '90s, the rate edged up to 26 percent -- not much of a difference.

It's possible that fewer initiatives will end up being challenged in the future. The reason is a 1998 state Supreme Court ruling that requires the secretary of state to screen initiatives to make sure they don't contain more than a single amendment to the constitution.

Since that ruling, about a dozen proposed initiatives have been rejected before backers could start signature gathering.

"We're finally seeing the courts step in and put some reasonable balance into the process," says David Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, "one that will help voters know what they're voting on."

5 -- "Conservative causes are more successful with initiatives than liberal causes are."

False.

Of the 99 initiatives since 1976, only 75 can be identified as either liberal or conservative in their leaning.

As conservative, we classified measures calling for tax reductions, stricter penalties for crimes, restrictions on abortions or unions' political activity -- or any other measure obviously funded by conservative groups.

Liberal measures included calls for new or higher taxes, stricter environmental protections, restrictions on nuclear energy, broader legal uses for marijuana or any other cause mainly paid for by liberal groups.

Liberal proposals had the upper hand in the early period, but things evened out. Overall, 36 percent of the conservative measures have won approval, and almost 40 percent of the liberal measures have won.

Even in the 1990s, as more conservative politics took hold in the Oregon Legislature, liberal initiatives enjoyed a 41 percent success rate compared with 39 percent for the conservative measures.

Moreover, when the elections are close, the conservatives get burned. Thirteen initiatives since 1976 have come within 5 percentage points of winning. Each of those narrowly losing efforts was a conservative measure.

6 -- "Conservative campaigns are better funded than liberal causes."

True, but the gap has closed dramatically in recent years.

From 1976 to 1990, conservative committees outspent their liberal foes by more than 2-1. In the 1990s, though, committees backing liberal causes spent $23.7 million -- not far behind the $24.6 million spent by conservative opponents.

Corporations are the big players for conservative campaigns, providing nearly two thirds of large donations. Of the large donations to liberal measures, half came from unions and 41 percent came from nonprofit groups.

The minor players: individual donors. They accounted for about 11 percent of large contributions for conservative causes and 2 percent for liberal ones.

7 -- "Initiatives have become longer and hence more complicated."

Untrue.

The problem with wording, critics claim, is that measures become hard for voters to understand, that they're so poorly written that the Legislature struggles to implement them or courts must overturn them.

The assumption about length is not really true. Since the '80s, the average length of initiative measures has been about 1,400 words. That compares with an average of about 1,200 words in the post-Watergate period.

Statutory initiatives, which change state law, tend to be wordier than initiatives that amend the constitution. But constitutional amendments, which are immune to tampering from the Legislature, are on the rise.

In the early period, a quarter of the measures were constitutional amendments. In the mid-'80s a third were amendments, and in the '90s more than half were amendments.

8 -- "Voters are turned off by too many initiatives."

Well, if voter turnout is any indication, this just isn't true.

One way to gauge voter enthusiasm is to compare turnout on initiatives to turnout for the presidential races every four years. Initiatives have never drawn the interest that presidential contests do, but the gap has been consistently small.

In fact, the largest difference was in 1976, when about 67 percent of Oregon's registered voters cast ballots for initiatives and 72 percent voted for president. Ever since, though, initiative turnout has come within 3 percentage points of presidential turnout.


Comments on Elections 99

By Colin Stark, December, 1999

In the District of North Vancouver we had hoped for better results. Direct Democracy candidate Dave Sadler placed 2nd in the Mayoral campaign.
Councillor Ernie Crist was re-elected 6th of 6 positions; Councillor Pat Munroe - 10th; Marcel Loretan - 12th; Joan Gadsby - 13th; Albert Weisstock - 16th; -- of 20 candidates.

We did NOT succeed in having Direct Democracy become the major campaign issue, but there is no question that it is now established as one of the major issues in the district.
We thank all the DD candidates for putting DD on the map as a Municipal campaign issue.
The following articles give more details on the North Vancouver election.

Major changes in Mayor and Council occurred in Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, and Langley Township. Direct Democracy and/or referenda were one of the major issues in these campaigns, and we will watch with interest the progress of democracy in these municipalities.

Direct Democracy was also an issue in the elections in West Vancouver, Port Moody, Coquitlam, Abbotsford, and Delta.


North Vancouver District calls for election probe

Council pushes for review of district electors association

By Marcie Good, Contributing Writer, North Shore News
Dec. 6, 1999

THE case of a mysterious group which many believe influenced the election in North Vancouver District should be reviewed by the provincial ministry of municipal affairs, council voted Monday night.

The motion, raised by out-going Coun. Trevor Carolan, will request that the ministry look at the activities of the North Shore Concerned Citizens Association and its advertising campaign.

"While the NSCCA campaign appears to have enjoyed singular success in electing a slate of its endorsed candidates, the promotional materials it produced and distributed at considerable expense failed to disclose the true single-issue agenda that manifestly lay closest to its heart," Carolan read from a report to council.

"... ethically such tactics fall far short of the law in spirit and can only serve to bring the municipal electoral process into disrepute."

Raised during the last meeting of the out-going council, the issue carved a sharp divide between the re-elected and the defeated. Council voted 4-3 to support the motion, with Coun. Janice Harris, Coun. Lisa Muri, and Mayor Don Bell against, all three of whom appeared on the Concerned Citizens slate and were re-elected. But they argued Monday night that the group's campaign did not affect the results.

"Maybe it's the weekly televising of council meetings that has as much to do with election results as any number of slates," contended Harris, who was elected with the most votes of any councillor.

She pointed out that the district has a "discriminating electorate," shown by the large number of people who "undervote" -- selecting only the number of candidates they want to support.

"I am not going to denigrate the choices that the electorate made in a fair, open, and well-debated election," she said. "I think that is sour grapes."

Mayor Bell said he was not asked for his consent before his name and picture appeared on the Concerned Citizens campaign material. He also raised concerns about whether a candidate must declare unsolicited contributions.

But Bell stopped short of supporting a full-fledged review of the Concerned Citizens group. He said it was "inappropriate" for such a request to come from council.

"I don't go along with the rationale that bad politics drives out the good," he said.

Muri also declared that she was not asked to be included on the group's slate, but agreed with Bell's comments. She asked whether the new council could overturn the motion.

New councillors Doug McKay-Dunn, Heather Dunsford and Bill Denault were also chosen by the Concerned Citizens. The only candidate on the group's slate that was not elected was Maureen McKeon-Holmes, who was narrowly defeated by Ernie Crist.

The group's pamphlets, mailed to district homes in the week before the Nov. 20 election, encouraged residents to vote "no" to the waterfront referendum.

They showed a photograph of highrise buildings along the West Vancouver seawall, and warned of "uncontrollable development." No name or contact number appeared on the flyers or in newspaper ads.

"It's the fact that a group that doesn't appear to be legal can spend unknown amounts of money, and we'll never know whether there was a conflict of interest," said Coun. Glenys Deering Robb, who was also defeated. "How do we know what's gone on here?"

Carolan insisted that this was not a case of "sour grapes," but a matter of principle.

"The Waterfront Task Force plan took many years, tax dollars, hours of staff time and volunteer time that is so precious.

"To have that misrepresented in this type of flyer that went around where clearly untruths are being told, is very serious," he said.

"Somebody from the municipality has to be willing to stand up and say 'This is wrong.' "

Original article in the North Shore News


Voters Shake Up District

Bell returned as mayor, but three incumbents defeated

By Katharine Hamer, North Shore News Reporter
Nov. 29, 1999

IT was out with the old and in with the political neophytes when the votes were tallied up in North Vancouver District over the weekend.

Incumbent Mayor Don Bell was returned to office for a second consecutive term, with 9,639 votes to challenger Dave Sadler's 5,640. Third candidate Peter Faminow racked up 320 votes.

But long-time district Coun. Pat Munroe was turfed, as were incumbents Trevor Carolan and Glenys Deering-Robb.

The slate chosen by electors was almost exactly that recommended by the somewhat ephemeral North Shore Concerned Citizens Association.

"I don't think we've ever seen a slate like that in the district before," said Deering-Robb. "That slate was beautifully executed. It was like a military operation. I think it's changed politics in the district."

All of the elected candidates, with the exception of Coun. Ernie Crist, were firmly against the Waterfront Task Force plan which would increase public access to district foreshore.

Incumbents Lisa Muri and Janice Harris were re-elected and will join newcomers Doug MacKay-Dunn, Heather Dunsford and Bill Denault in council chambers.

MacKay-Dunn said he is eager to work with the new team and go over the municipal budget "line by line."

Voters resolutely said "no" to the waterfront plan in a referendum conducted concurrent to the election.

But "mark my words, waterfront aristocrats," said ousted Coun. Trevor Carolan, "your day will come."

"(The Concerned Citizens) could have been a white supremacist party or the man on the moon party for all the voting public knew," said Carolan.

"They didn't have much clue what they were voting for -- it's a real puzzler. The candidates who were elected were the people on council who voted for tax increases. Big money and big lies won the day."

Those views were echoed by Dave Sadler.

"Money talks," Sadler said, "the taxpayers were duped into voting for a slate of candidates recommended by a group masquerading as concerned citizens. People wanted a change, but the electorate were confused, and the slate made the decision process easy for them."

"Dave Sadler ran a very negative campaign," said Don Bell, who also made disparaging remarks about returning Coun. Ernie Crist.

Bell described the Waterfront Task Force Referendum as "a ploy by Ernie to try and circumvent the process of discussion agreed by the task force and council."

Bell said that in principle he agreed with increased waterfront access as proposed by the task force, and was "surprised by how strong the 'no' vote was." However, he was also keen to protect the rights of waterfront property owners.

He added that in his new term as mayor, he would have "a much tighter rein on procedures" in council chambers.

Dalia Gottlieb-Tanaka, who ran as a council candidate, resigned yesterday from several district advisory committees because she felt unable to work with the new council and with co-committee member Weldon Congdon (founder of the Concerned Citizens' Association).

Gottlieb-Tanaka said the amount of "manipulation, hateful attack and misrepresentation (in the election process) was shocking and all too pervasive."

She was baffled by the election of less experienced candidates like Heather Dunsford.

Gottlieb-Tanaka relayed the story of how Dunsford once asked to borrow her copy of the district newsletter.

"She asked me, 'do you get this in the mail'?"
Gottlieb-Tanaka said, "I told her, 'no, you get it when you visit council regularly.' "

 

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Original article in the North Shore News

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