An analysis of the history of veto referendums in the U.S.

Between 1906 and 2018, 521 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in the 23 states that allow them. Voters repealed 340 (65.3 percent) of the targeted laws and upheld 181 (34.7 percent) of them.
 
A veto referendum is a type of citizen-initiated ballot measure that asks voters whether to uphold or repeal a law passed by the state legislature. The veto referendum ballot measure is also known as a popular referendum, people’s veto, or citizen’s veto. There are 23 states that have a process for veto referendums. In 21 of those states, citizen signature petitions can be used to propose new laws as well as challenge laws passed by the legislature. In two states, Maryland and New Mexico, veto referendums are the only kind of citizen-initiated measure allowed at the statewide level.
 
During this period, the states with the most veto referendums were North Dakota (75), Oregon (68), and California (48). The states that allowed for veto referendums but had the fewest number of them were Wyoming (1), Nevada (2), and New Mexico (3).
 
Utah is the only state where voters have repealed every law put before them through the veto referendum process. Utah has had a total of four veto referendums. The most recent was in 2007 when voters rejected a school voucher program.
 
The most common topic for veto referendums has been taxation, with 84 different measures concerning taxes in 18 states. Voters rejected the targeted legislation concerning taxes 62 times and upheld it 22 times.
 
For the 2020 ballot, there is one veto referendum certified to appear before voters so far: the California Replace Cash Bail with Risk Assessments Veto Referendum. California voters have decided 48 total veto referendums since the state established the initiative and referendum process in 1911. Of the 48, voters upheld the targeted law in 20 and repealed it in 28. The first California veto referendum was in 1912, and the most recent was in 2016 when voters upheld legislation banning certain plastic bags.
 
Veto referendum petition efforts have been proposed for the 2019 ballot in Colorado and Washington. In Washington, a veto referendum petition was filed targeting the repeal of legislation increasing the salaries of state elected officials. In Colorado, a veto referendum petition was filed targeting legislation designed to enter into an agreement to elect the president through a National Popular Vote (NPV). Washington has had 37 veto referendums, with the most recent in 2012. Voters upheld seven of the targeted laws and repealed 30. In Colorado, there have been 13 veto referendums, with the most recent one in 1932. Voters upheld three of the targeted laws and repealed 10.



About the author

Josh Altic

Josh Altic is a project director at Ballotpedia and can be reached at josh.altic@ballotpedia.org

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