Undertake an Initiative Campaign
Constitutional and Statutory Provisions
Agitation for initiative and referendum in Michigan
started with the formation of the state's Direct Legislation Club in 1895 by
George F. Sherman and David Inglis, both Detroit physicians. Sherman and Inglis
pushed for adoption of statewide I&R for over a decade without success, despite
support from the noted reformer, Detroit mayor, and later Michigan governor
Hazen S. Pingree. In 1900 S. D. Williams of Battle Creek cited the legislature's
Republican majority as the major obstacle.
The reformers won passage of an initiative and
referendum amendment at the
state constitutional convention of 1907. The voters ratified it in 1908, but the
victory turned out to be hollow because the provisions were restrictive that
citizens were unable to place a single initiative on the ballot.
Michigan initiative and referendum advocates resumed lobbying the
legislature for a better amendment and gained the support of Governor Chase S.
Osborn, a Progressive elected in 1910. The legislature rejected Osborn's
attempts, but relented in 1913 during the administration of Governor Ferris,
another I&R supporter.
Under the new provisions, it took 39,000 signatures
to put a constitutional amendment initiative on the 1914 ballot. The first two
initiatives that won voter approval were on the ballot in 1932: a
measure to establish a liquor control commission passed overwhelmingly, and an
amendment to limit property taxes won 51.1 percent of the vote.
In 1938, voters passed an amendment specifying that
gas and vehicle weight tax money must be used for roads and streets. The
following year, in an April special election, they approved a system for the
nonpartisan election of judges. In 1946, voters enacted an initiative to ensure
that part of the state's sales tax revenues were returned to the municipalities;
in 1948, they modified the property tax limitation. In 1976, voters approved by
a two-to-one margin a measure that a 10-cent
deposit on bottles and cans. In 1998, the voters rejected a physician assisted
suicide initiative and in 2000 defeated a school voucher initiative that was
sponsored by Amway founder Dick DeVos.
Ten initiatives have come before the voters in the
first decade of the 21st century, many of them attracting national interest. In
2000, voters rejected 39-61 a proposal to create a voucher system for public
schools. In 2004, voters amended the state constitution 59-41 to define marriage
as solely between one man and one woman, effectively banning same-sex marriage.
In 2006, voters approved 58-42 an initiative that prohibited the state from
discriminating against or providing preferential treatment on the basis of race,
ethnicity, and gender. In 2008, voters legalized the use of marijuana for
medical purposes, and removed certain restrictions on embryonic stem cell
David Schmidt, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution
(Temple University Press, 1989).