Principles of Democracy

Administrative Process

Balance of Powers

Executive Privilege

Federalism/States Rights

Federalist Papers

First Amendment/Five Freedoms

Freedom of the Press

Initiative and Referendum

What are initiatives and referendums?

Like many states, Washington’s Constitution provides both an initiative and a referendum process.  Both processes are a form of direct democracy allowing citizens to participate in the legislative process.  Initiatives and referendums are powerful tools that allow voters more control over how they are governed.

An initiative is a means for the public to put an issue to the ballot for a general vote.  The issue could be a proposed law or a constitutional amendment.  Not every proposal makes it on the ballot however.  Initiative backers must show that there is enough public interest in the issue to justify a public vote.  To show that there is sufficient interest, a minimum number of signatures of registered voters must be collected.  In Washington, the number of signatures to put an initiative on the ballot is equal to 8% of the number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

A referendum is a means for the public to evaluate a law that was passed by the legislature.  Almost any law passed in Washington State is subject to the referendum.  The referendum process allows voters to overturn an unpopular law or validate a controversial one.  Like an initiative, a number of signatures must be collected to put a referendum on the ballot.  In Washington, that number is equal to 4% of the number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

Judicial Independence

Judicial independence is key to the integrity of the balance of powers between the branches.

Jury Service

Jury service is one of the great privileges and significant responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy. Juries are empaneled for both civil and criminal cases.  You may be called as a juror in a municipal court, a county district court, a county superior court or a federal district court.  Most courts will have information on their web site about their particular procedures.  You can find a list of these web sites in the Find Law & Government section.  The Resource links below provide access to important information about your role as a juror.   

Legislative Process

Rule of Law

Separation of Powers

The Bill of Rights

The Judicial System

The Role of Judges

While it is the role of juries to decide the facts of a case, it’s up to the presiding judge or judges to determine which laws apply and how. This position carries a lot of responsibility – so how exactly do judges get into that position in the first place? The following links should help you understand on how judges get to be judges, and what they do while they’re there.

  • The way judges take to the bench in Washington may be changing. The Washington State Bar Association’s Bar News has these articles about the issue of appointment versus election.
  • Currently, Washington State judges are elected by popular vote. VotingForJudges.com provides detail info about this year’s upcoming judicial elections in Washington State.
  • The American Judicature Society provides info about judges and judicial selection/election for every state, including Washington.  The American Judicature Society also compiles diversity statistics for the bench in every state.
  • Federal Judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate and serve a life term (they may remain judges as long as they like, provided that they remain in good conduct) with the exception of bankruptcy judges and magistrates. The Federal Courts website explains it all here.
  • There are many different types of federal and state courts, for instance: tribal courts, maritime courts, bankruptcy courts and family courts. This article from the Federal Judicial Center gives a brief overview of the different types of federal courts and how they operate.

The Responsibility of Citizenship

Tribal Sovereignty