By 1900, reformers had organized a Maryland Direct Legislation League, with A. G. Eichelberger as its president. Ten years later the League claimed "more than 1,000 active, working members." In 1914, the League promoted an I&R bill sponsored by State Senator William J. Odgen of Baltimore, but the legislature amended it to remove the initiative provision. This "referendum only" amendment passed both houses in 1915 and was ratified by the voters. The following year the League pressed the legislature for an initiative amendment. Their bill passed the senate with only six dissenting votes, but was tabled (effectively killed) in the house by a 66 to 27 vote. Never again did an initiative amendment come close to approval. Charles J. Ogle, secretary of the League in 1916, attributed the failure to the committee chairmen, "a very active lobby against" the initiative amendment, and rural legislators' fear of the Baltimore masses.

Since the referendum amendment was ratified in 1915, it has been used 17 times by citizens to force a statewide popular vote on unpopular laws passed by the legislature (through 2013). In 1970, voters vetoed the legislature's bill regarding a Department of Economic and Community Development, and in 1972 and 1974, they vetoed state aid to nonpublic schools. Until 1988, all subsequent referendum petitions failed because of either insufficient signatures or court decisions barring ballot placement. In 1988, however, the legislature passed a bill banning cheap handguns, and gun control opponents responded with a petition drive that put the measure on the ballot. Despite the record-breaking expenditure by the National Rifle Association of more than $4 million for a "Vote No" campaign, voters approved the law by a 58-percent margin. In 2012, voters approved three high-profile referendums: Question 4 granted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, Question 5 approved a redistricting plan, and Question 6 permitted same-sex marriage.

See David Schmidt, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution (Temple University Press, 1989).

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