I understand that, roughly, 20 states have a Ballot Initiative process. To clarify:

A citizen may gather a set number of signatures, on a petition, to have an issue or item placed upon a ballot for popular vote. If the the yes votes outnumber the no votes then whatever that ballot item was has won and is approved and implemented.

I.E. - If you wanted Marijuana to be legal, Federally, a person could conceivably go get...for example...1 million petition signatures...or whatever number that would be. Then, during the next Federal election, that item would appear on the ballot to be voted on by the entire country. Results to be carried out the following calendar year.

Can anyone tell me...do we have anything like that at the Federal level? If so, maybe a link to literature or something? Thanks!


No. There is nothing like that at the federal level. When states have such provisions, they are generally included in the state constitution. The United States Constitution has no such provision.

Voters directly elect members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, and also directly elect members of the electoral college who in turn elect the U.S. President. Most laws are adopted by Congress with the signature of the President or by overriding a Presidential veto. Some appointments are made by the President and approved by the U.S. Senate. Treaties are made by the President and approved by a two-thirds majority of the U.S. Senate. Impeachment is done by the U.S. House by majority vote and approved by a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate.

There are some functions in the U.S. Constitution that involve state legislatures. States handle elections for federal offices in their states, including redistricting. Before the 17th Amendment, they appointed U.S. Senators. They have a role in proposing and in ratifying amendments to the United States Constitution, and in calling for constitutional conventions to propose amendments to the United States constitution. They have a role in changing state boundaries or splitting up states. And, they can propose interstate compacts to Congress.

But, there are no provisions in the U.S. Constitution for initiatives, referendums, or recalls, and to do so would probably be an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power.

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  • I would just point out that states can amend the consitution with out the approval of the federal government though what ever manner they choose to implement. So for the 20ish states that allow for ballot initiatives if those initiatives included an amendment to the consititution then it would count, though still need another 14 states to approve the amendment in their processes to get that amendment fully ratified. – SoylentGray Apr 6 '17 at 20:10
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    @SoylentGray You seem to misunderstand the process of amending the constitution. It does require federal participation, in that proposed amendments pass congress before being submitted to the states for ratification, or, if amending the constitution by convention (which has never happened) congress calls the convention in response to an application by 2/3 of the states, presumably specifying its rules of order. You also seem to assume that a state that has its own referendum procedure would necessarily ratify an amendment to institute federal referendums, but that isn't necessarily true. – phoog Apr 6 '17 at 20:27
  • @phoog no they do not need to pass through congress. The states can do it on there own. There are several initatives at the state levels working including term limits, a balance budget amendment, and one that would mandate a national single payer healthcare. I am not confident any of them will succeed but they are state level federal initatives. – SoylentGray Apr 7 '17 at 14:34
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    @SoylentGray states can call for federal constitutional amendments on their own, but they cannon enact them without congress. Emphasis added: The Congress ... shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid ... when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress... – phoog Apr 7 '17 at 15:00

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