As of April, 71 citizen initiatives were on ballots across the country for 2018. Sick of gerrymandering and want to force nonpartisan districting? Michigan has a citizen initiative for that on November’s ballot. Believe in Medicaid expansion and want it in your state, but the legislature won’t pass it? Citizens put that issue on the ballot in three states for next fall. Support medical marijuana use? Three states have that on the ballot this year.
None of these questions are on North Carolina ballots this year. Why not? Only 24 states allow citizen initiatives to be placed on the ballot, usually by petition. North Carolina is one of the 26 states with no citizen initiative process. Under North Carolina law, measures can only be placed on the ballot by the General Assembly. We lost the right to put citizen initiatives on the ballot in the 1916 North Carolina Legislation Restrictions Amendment. This amendment from a century ago continues to constrain us.
Citizen initiatives are direct democracy: Citizens putting questions on the ballot and voting those themselves. North Carolina has only representative democracy, with our officials deciding issues for us and controlling what few issues make it on the ballot for a direct vote. The extreme gerrymandering we have now is a prime example of how poorly this works when in the wrong hands.
Why aren’t citizen initiatives an issue in North Carolina? Shouldn’t we begin to demand to have the right as citizens to put a question on the ballot by petition? Do you wish we, like Michigan, were voting next fall to force nonpartisan districting on our elected officials? Do you want to join the ranks of states with expanded Medicaid? Do you want your opinion reflected in North Carolina’s marijuana laws? Would you like to put voting by mail on the ballot? Do you want the option of putting any future such questions on the ballot if enough of your fellow citizens agree with you? Let’s start making this an issue; start asking our candidates if they will support giving citizens the right to direct democracy in our state. What do you think?
— Nann Bell