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Wyoming

Wyoming’s initiative and referendum pioneer was State Rep. L. C. Tidball of Sheridan. In the early 1890s Tidball was one of the first state legislators in the nation - possibly the very first - to introduce a bill to amend a state constitution to provide for statewide I&R.

The Wyoming legislature waited 19 years before finally taking favorable action on an I&R bill in 1912, after all the surrounding states had already put I&R into their constitutions. It was favored by a six to one margin of the voters who cast ballots on its ratification. It still failed to take effect, however, because Wyoming constitutional amendments required ratification by a "supermajority" of all the voters casting ballots in the election, which made blank ballots count as "no" votes. By this standard, the I&R amendment narrowly failed.

Finally, in 1968, Wyoming’s legislature passed an I&R amendment, and it won voter ratification. But the procedures, specified by the legislature, included the most difficult petition requirement for initiatives of any state law in the nation: 15 percent of the number of ballots cast in the preceding gubernatorial election. And it did not allow voters to propose or vote on initiative constitutional amendments at all.

Though several attempts were made, only one initiative qualified for the ballot in 20 years: a proposed law, titled "In-stream Flows," that would allow the state’s fish and game department to claim water rights on behalf of fish and wildlife, so that future development - and particularly energy projects like a proposed water-guzzling coal slurry pipeline - would not drain essential water sources. The backers’ first petition drive, in 1981, fell 1,000 names short, and they were forced to start again. By early 1986 they had finally qualified their measure for the November 1986 ballot. The legislature enacted it in March 1986, making a citizen vote on the measure unnecessary.

In 1992, the first statewide initiative qualified for the ballot. It was an initiative to ban triple trailers from state highways – it passed overwhelmingly. That same year, two other initiatives qualified for the ballot – a term limits measure and an initiative that would regulate railroads and hazardous materials. They both passed. Since 1992, only three other initiatives have made the ballot. The reason for the low number is that the initiative process in Wyoming ranks as one of the most difficult in the country. Attempts by pro-initiative legislators in 2002 to try and lessen the restrictions on the initiative process went nowhere.

See David Schmidt, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution.

© 2014 Initiative & Referendum Institute

University of Southern California

Los Angeles CA 90089-0071