This is apparently the year of the referendum across the nation - the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that there are more popular referenda on the ballot this year than any year since 1920. (There are also 42 initiatives, which are laws proposed by citizens and are much more common; referenda are laws passed by the Legislature that the citizens challenge at the ballot box.) Nationwide, 12 referenda are on state ballots, including the three in Idaho, Propositions 1, 2 and 3 regarding the “Students Come First” school reform laws.
The referenda in other states include two testing laws that legalize gay marriage (Washington and Maryland); two challenging redistricting plans (California and Maryland); one (Montana) challenging legislative limits on a voter-passed medical marijuana initiative; and one (South Dakota) that, like Idaho's, tests a new law changing teacher contract laws and imposing merit pay. The 12 referenda on the ballot this year compare to just one two years ago; two in 2008; four in 2006 and two in 2004. “This year's number stands out,” writes NCSL analyst Jennie Drage Bowser.
The measures also are extremely rare in Idaho. Idaho has had just four previous referendum measures on its ballot since statehood. They included one challenging the Legislature's repeal of a term limits initiative in 2002; one testing the right-to-work law in 1986; one testing the new 3 percent sales tax in 1966; and one challenging a new 2 percent sales tax in 1935. Only the 1935 measure succeeded in overturning the legislatively passed law. If some or all of this year's Idaho referendum measures succeed in overturning the school reform laws, it'd make history in a big way.
Bowser writes that this year's big spate of referenda across the country is related to the current political polarization in American government and its electorate - and that if this year's measures are successful, more could follow. “Whatever the future holds for this often-neglected process,” she writes, “its heavy use this year certainly provides an engaging case study of direct democracy in action.”