What ties all these measures together, beyond a “live and let live” ethos, is the state’s initiative and referendum process, which gives voters, not lawmakers, the power to set policy much more directly than in other states.
Findlay says the initiative process can be traced back to the state’s early days, when Washingtonians, buoyed by the progressive and populist movements, didn’t trust their politicians. While politicians in most other states manage what goes on the ballot, Washingtonians can pay $5 to submit an initiative or referendum. Get 241,153 valid signatures (120,557 for a referendum) and that measure is inked on the ballot.
“There’s a legacy of distrust of the Legislature stemming from 100 years ago that has continued to shape politics for more than a century,” Findlay said.
Although 24 states and the District of Columbia have an initiative process, it has been most used by the Western states, particularly California, Oregon and Washington, making them laboratories for special interest groups.