REJECT SB5395: What Are the Differences Between Initiatives and Referenda?

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

Voting on R90 — The Initiative and Referenda Process in Washington State AARON LANG·FRIDAY, JULY 24, 2020·READING TIME: 3 MINUTES

While we are still in the Primary Election season, something pressing on my mind is Referendum 90 and the need to educate others on the Initiative and Referenda process. If you want to know how this relates to R-90, just skip to the bottom. Read on for more detail on the whole process...

We, the people, have reserved the power to self-legislate in Washington State. The State Constitution gets right to it in Article II (Legislative Department). The first two points of Art. II Section 1 is of the people reserving the powers of Initiative (a), and Referendum (b). (a) The first power reserved by the people is the initiative. ... (b) The second power reserved by the people is the referendum, and it may be ordered on any act, bill, law, or any part thereof passed by the legislature, except... What are these two reserved powers?

  • An initiative is an idea for law proposed by the voters. We can send this idea directly to the voters (an Initiative to the People), or we can send it to the Legislature (an Initiative to the Legislature). This power allows us to bypass our representation and self-legislate.

  • A Referendum is a matter proposed or enacted by the legislature which has been referred to the voters. We, the people, can order this by petition on a law recently passed (a Referendum Measure), or the Legislature may order this on proposed laws which they believe should be a direct-vote issue (a Referendum Bill).

Almost every time a Referendum Measure is ordered, it's because of a desire to overturn a law. Once on our ballot, we are empowered to directly vote on the matter. Here's where confusion sets in: many people believe they are then voting to approve or reject the overturn of the law. That is a huge mistake in thinking...

Voting on a Referendum When a Referendum Measure is on our ballot, we are voting directly on the law which was already passed. We are voting to either APPROVE the law or REJECT the law as-written.