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State Initiatives & Referenda

The Washington State Constitution affords voters 2 basic methods of direct legislative power - the Initiative and the Referendum. Initiatives and Referenda become law with a simple majority vote.


The initiative process is the direct power of the voters to enact new laws or change existing laws. There are 2 types of initiatives and both are placed on the ballot because of petitions signed by voters.

To the People
Initiatives to the People are proposed laws submitted directly to the people.

To the Legislature
Initiatives to the Legislature are proposed laws submitted to the Legislature. The Legislature must take one of the following 3 actions:

  • The Legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law without a vote of the people;
  • The Legislature can reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative, in which case the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election; or
  • The Legislature can propose a different measure dealing with the same subject, in which case both measures must be placed on the next state General Election ballot.


There are 2 types of referenda. The main purpose of both is to give voters an opportunity to approve or reject laws either proposed or enacted by the Legislature. The only acts that are exempt from the power of referendum are emergency laws - those that are necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, and the support of state government and its existing institutions.

  • Referendum Measures are laws recently passed by the Legislature that are placed on the ballot because of petitions signed by voters.
  • Referendum Bills are proposed laws referred to the voters by the Legislature.

For a more in depth look at the initiative process visit:  www.sos.wa.gov/elections/initiatives

Amendments to the State Constitution

Proposed amendments to the state constitution are passed by the legislature and must be approved by voters at a general election.

State Advisory Votes

Simply put, voters are advising the Legislature to repeal or maintain a tax increase. A state law passed by voters in 2007 as Initiative 960 requires that advisory votes be submitted to voters for taxes or changes in tax law that were enacted by the legislature without voter approval. Advisory votes are non-binding and results will not change the law.

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