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2011 Brings Record High Number of Referendum Efforts

In the first century of California’s direct democracy system, there were only sixty-six attempts to overturn a new law through a referendum – compared to more than one thousand six hundred initiatives. This year, on the one-hundredth anniversary, there are nine referenda.

“You have a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature passing Democratic bills that Republicans are very upset about,” said Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies.

Stern said there’s a big advantage to the referendum process, and noted, “voters tend to vote no these days. So you have a three- or four-point advantage by going to a referendum since you want the no vote."


But to get to the ballot, you have to qualify – and that’s not easy. Initiative backers get one hundred and fifty days to gather signatures. Referendum backers only get ninety. This year, an effort to overturn a requirement that public schools teach historical contributions of gays and lesbians failed to qualify. Critics of allowing state financial aid for college students who are undocumented immigrants are just starting to gather signatures. And one referendum may be close to qualifying: an effort to overturn State Senate maps drawn by California’s new Citizens Redistricting Commission.