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v2.1 Reference

Direct Legislation

Voting on Ballot Propositions in the United States

In the last decade, and especially since the passage of California's Proposition 13, direct voter legislation has become an increasingly important part of American politics. Voters have faced referendums to cut taxes, freeze nuclear weapons, restrict homosexual rights, limit government spending, stop the development of nuclear power, and protect the victims of crime. If present trends continue, the referendum will become a more important factor in American politics of the 1980s than ever before.

Direct Legislation is the first comprehensive examination of the politics of initiative and referendum to appear in over forty years. Focusing upon citizen participation in direct legislation, David Magleby concentrates upon the mechanics of the phenomenon rather than on single issues of particular campaigns. He summarizes the relevant rules relating to direct legislation in the individual jurisdictions where the process is permitted and considers who votes on ballot propositions and why they are likely to vote as they do. Magleby also studies the history and early development of direct legislation and places the current resurgence of initiative use within a broader pattern of American politics.

Magleby makes clear that the new direct legislation is not without problems. The proposals are often biased, citizens are frequently uninformed about the issues they vote on, and very few propositions are actually enacted. Yet an overwhelming majority of voters favors a national initiative and more widespread use of direct legislation at state and local levels.

Direct Legislation concludes with a consideration of the developing implications of direct legislation for legislatures, political parties, candidate elections, and other political institutions and processes.

About the Author

David Magleby is on the faculty of Brigham Young University, where he teaches political science. He is a coauthor of The Myth of the Independent Voter.

Johns Hopkins University Press
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