What is an initiative petition?

A viewer asked this question on 5/14/2000:

What is an initiative and what does it do? What are the positive aspects of the process?

JesseGordon gave this response on 5/14/2000:

Initiative petitions (as they're called in my state of Massachusetts) differ from state to state, and some states don't have them at all. But I'll outline the general ideas.

Initiative petitions are citizen-generated ballot questions which, if passed majority vote, have the force of law, the same as if the state legislature passed them. To get on the ballot, you have to get a large number of signatures (hence the "petition" part) and follow other rules that are determined b each state.

The positive aspect is that it comes directly from citizens, and is passed directly by majority vote. Hence "politicking" is kept to a minimum, since no politicians are involved. It's one of the most directly democratic means of passing laws (as opposed to the representative democracy of legislatures).

Of course, it's still political, because politicians endorse voting for or against each initiative, and so do "interest groups." In Massachusetts, we're bombarded with bumper stickers touting "Yes on 1" or "No on 2", TV and radio advertisements on both sides, and also the "official" pro & con of each initiative question.

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