By a process called initiative, Missouri residents proposed and passed legislation that prevents utility companies from passing construction costs for new projects on to consumers before those projects become operable.
By a process called recall, voters in Madison, Wis., recently voted to oust a county judge whose comments linking rape with sexual permissiveness had outraged many in the community.
District voters will have an opportunity in Tuesday's voting to say whether they would like to have recall or initiative and referendum powers.
While initiative, referendum and recall would give D.C. residents additional powers, it would not change the structure of government. Voters would still elect representatives to act on their behalf.
However, with the proposed charter amendments, proponents say, District residents would hav additional safeguards against unresponsive legislators and other elected officials, by having the power to either repeal laws, propose new ones or get rid of elected officials.
According to the wording of one charter amendment, 5 per cent of the registered voters from at least five city wards may sign a petition to initiate a law or repeal one already passed by the City Council.
The second proposed amendment - recall - would enable 10 per cent of the registered voters in an elected official's ward or 10 per cent of the voters from at least five city wards, in the case of an at-large elected official, to hold recall proceedings.
If enough signatures are gathered for recall, initiative or referendum petitions, an issue can be placed on the ballot for all voters to decide at the next general election.
Edward B. Webb, Jr., general counsel to the City Council, said while initiative and referendum powers would give voters much the same authority as the City Council, there are limits to what voters could do.
"Voters could not adopt laws to reduce the property tax rate - that rate is set by the council to identify revenue that would support the city's budget. But they could identify and seek to tax other things which are not now taxed," Webb said.
"Neither can voters initiate or repeal laws to set up a commuter tax or laws that would change the court system," he added.
But Webb said that voters could use the process of initiative and referendum to "amend environmental or health regulations, change the hours of operation for liquor stores or initiate or repeal legislation dealing with rent control."
While the initiate, referendum and recall amendments on the Nov. 8th ballot reflect the general concept that city officials favoured when they approved legislation now before the voters, council members recently discovered that the wording printed on the ballot isn't exactly what they intended.
When the council passed the legislation for the two amendments last May on final reading, neither the council nor its staff apparently read the legislation carefully enough.
Between the first and final readings, a process in which the council votes on legislation several times, a staff member left out two little words, "each of," which substantially changed the meaning of the legislation.
Council members said last week that they had intended that the legislation require that referendum, initiative or recall petitions have the necessary percentage of signatures from "each of" five or more city wards.
The amendments on the 200,000 ballots already printed say, from "at least" five city wards. The Council had wanted it to say from "each of at least" five city wards. The intent was to make it harder for dissidnet groups to force issues on the ballot.
Even if D.C. voters approve the charter amendments as they are on the ballot now, those amendments won't be effective until Oct. 1, 1978.
After concluding last week that it could not legally correct the error, the council reversed itself Tuesday. Declaring an emergency, it voted to instruct the Board of Elections and Ethics to put the corrected version before the voters at next Tuesday's election.
At this writing, no final decision had been reached. If the council's decision sticks, it seems likely that some form of hand-counted ballot will be provided to the voters, at least for the referendum issue.
There has been so little opposition to the general concept of initiative, referendum and recall, that Roger Telschow, a spokesman for Initiative America, said lack of opposition "has been a real detriment to getting news coverage so that people will know what the proposal is all about."
Initiative America is a national group, with headquarters in Washington, promoting initiative laws for the Congress and all states. Recently, initiative legislation was introduced into both houses of Congress.
In the District, a group called Initiative D.C., has been promoting initiative, referendum and recall. A spokesman for the group said they have the endorsement of D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, Mayor Walter E. Washington, and City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker.
In addition, several City Council members have also strongly favored the proposals, including David A. Clarke (D-One) and Hilda Mason (D-at large). The city's business interests favor the proposals also.
"I have a lot of faith in the ability of the people to decide things," said Council member Marion Barry, (D-at large) also a supporter of the amendments. "The people aren't going to vote for just anything."
But some groups, notably gay rights groups, are leary of the proposals. For years, leaders of the gay activist groups have lobbied elected officials to include homosexuals in the city's anti-discrimination laws.
Some leaders said they fear that a referendum on gay rights would undo years of struggle.
Recently, voters in Dade County, Fla. voted to repeal a portion of Dade's anti-discrimination statutes which protected the rights of homosexuals. That election cost the county $325,000.
"There is a divisiveness among the gay leaders in Washington about what position we should take," said Mayo Lee, president of the Gay Activist alliance. "We realize that it (referendum, initiative and recall amendments) is a good thing for the community, but it can also be used against us for political purposes."
City Council member Douglas Moore (D-at large), a candidate for Council chairman next year, already has said that he would call for a referendum on the gay rights issue.
"I think that the city council has miscalculated the pulse of this city," Moore said. "I think the Council has not been responsive to the people."
Frank Kameny, a D.C. Human Rights Commissioner and a veteran gay leader, said that the referendum in Dade County is an example of how referendum can "victimize minority groups.
"Always, it is the voices of extremism, fanaticism, reaction and hysteria that are heard first and most loudly," Kameny said. "They are the ones that call the referendum and the voices of moderation are only heard later, if at all."