Initiatives, Referenda Allow Voters a Chance to Make, Change Laws

Kevin Dietrich

A pair of proposed ballot measures will likely bring increased attention to Nevada’s initiatives and referenda process.

Earlier this year, proposed ballot measures were filed that would require:

  • All individuals voting in person to present a photo ID, and for those who vote by mail to add a means of verifying their identification other than just their signature; and
  • Voters to approve or disapprove portions of a 2021 state law that requires mail ballots to be sent to nearly all active, registered voters, allows “ballot harvesting,” and requires mail ballots without a legible postmark received after the polls close to be accepted as postmarked on or before the day of the election.

If the first item proceeds according to state guidelines, it would be put before the voters as a constitutional initiative on the 2022 ballot and, if successful, the 2024 ballot as well. If the second measure meets Nevada rules, it will be put forth on the 2022 ballot as a referendum.

Initiatives – which are either constitutional or statutory in nature – and referenda allow Nevadans to circulate a petition to propose new legislation, amend the Nevada Constitution or existing state statutes, or approve or disapprove existing laws. While there are similarities between Nevada’s initiative process and its referendum process, they serve different purposes.

Initiatives are a means for voters to enact or amend state and local laws, including the Nevada Constitution, while referenda can only approve or disapprove statutes, resolutions, or ordinances enacted by the state legislature, boards of county commissioners, or city councils, according to the Nevada secretary of state’s office.

One ballot measure filed by David Gibbs of North Las Vegas, whose “Repair the Vote” political action committee is behind the effort to enhance election integrity, would seek to amend the state constitution to require each individual voting in person to present a government-issued photo ID. This proposed initiative would also require every voter who casts their ballot by mail to enter either the last four digits of their Nevada driver’s license, the last four digits of their social security number, or a voter ID number to be assigned to people by a county clerk upon registration.

The constitutional initiative will increase voter integrity by ensuring that any person casting a ballot in Nevada is the duly registered voter, according to information submitted to the secretary of state. It will also improve and speed the mail-in ballot verification process by providing a more secure means of confirming that the ballot was completed by a registered voter.

Constitutional initiatives must be approved in two subsequent general-election ballots. So were Gibbs’ proposed ballot initiative to make it on the ballot and be passed this fall, it would have to be voted on and passed again in 2024 in order to become state constitutional law.

Gibbs has also filed to put a referendum on the 2022 ballot that seeks to eliminate provisions of Assembly Bill 321, a 2021 law that codified universal mail-in ballots for all active, registered voters unless they opt out, and also authorized someone other than the voter to turn in completed ballots, known as “ballot harvesting.”

A referendum differs from an initiative in that it need be passed at just a single election. Also, referenda passed by Nevada voters cannot be repealed or amended by the legislature. Changes can only be made through another voter referendum or initiative petition.

Proposed initiatives and referenda both require signatures from 10 percent of the number of voters in the last preceding general election. At present, that means a petition requires signatures from nearly 141,000 state voters, with one-quarter of that figure – a little more than 35,000 votes – coming from each of the Nevada’s four congressional districts. The deadline for gathering signatures is June 29.

Individuals who intend to circulate a statewide initiative or referendum petition must provide certain information to the secretary of state’s office prior to collecting signatures. This includes the name and signature of the person filing the petition, the names of up to three individuals who are authorized to withdraw or amend the petition, and the name of the political action committee formed to advocate for the passage of the petition. It must also include a short description of the effect of the proposed initiative or referendum.

Nevada has a long history with initiatives and referenda, though neither were included in the state’s constitution when it was adopted in 1864. The latter process was added in 1904, while the former came along in 1912. Both have been amended several times in the ensuing decades.

The first initiative to be approved by voters was a prohibition statute, which was approved in 1918.

Other key initiatives that have been passed include:

  • A 1960 petition that changed Nevada’s legislative session, with the state switching from annual sessions to biennial sessions;
  • A 1988 petition that prohibited the state from collecting a personal income tax; and
  • A 1996 petition that enacted term limits for state legislators.

Gibbs said he had no prior experience with initiatives or referenda, so he turned to the secretary of state’s office and also relied on past examples.

He’s trying to get the measures on the upcoming ballot because, given the state’s Democrat majority in the House and Senate, along with a Democrat sitting in the governor’s seat, he sees no other option.

“The only way to change the law is to get the voters to change it,” he said.


Editor’s note: Lawyers for Emily Persaud-Zamora and Eric Jeng filed separate lawsuits on Feb. 18 against Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske seeking to keep both of Repair The Vote’s petitions off the 2022 general election ballot.

The lawsuits were filed by the Washington, D.C., law firm of Marc Elias, who served as general counsel for the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election, and Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin LLC, which has offices in Las Vegas and Reno, along with Los Angeles. Both Persaud-Zamora and Jeng are active in the Democratic Party.

Attorney Sigal Chattah, who plans to run for Nevada attorney general in the coming election, filed a motion on Feb. 28 to intervene in the two suits, seeking to keep the petitions moving forward.

Kevin Dietrich

Kevin Dietrich

Director of Mainstream Media

Kevin Dietrich joined Nevada Policy in 2022 and currently serves as the Director of Mainstream Media.

He has more than 20 years of experience in communications, including serving as the director of communications and marketing for the South Carolina Bankers Association, working as a speechwriter for South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and assisting with internal communications for CVS Caremark.

Kevin graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in Journalism and a minor in History. A fifth-generation Californian, he spent a decade as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, New York, New Hampshire and South Carolina.