• Wikipedia: Referendums, often called ballot questions, are tools and opportunities to inject more democracy.

Today's voters are jaded and skeptical of the system.

Both the city charter and the county charter detail how ballot measures can appear before the voters on election days. The mayor and/or county executive can advance questions in the form of proposed legislation to their respective councils. With their votes, the question goes onto the ballot. Legislation can also originate within council chambers.

Without the approval of council, an elected official, could play a pivotal role in organizing and getting the petitions signed so that the citizens could put ballot question to the voters, without the consent or approval of either the majority of the city or county council.


Opposition Referendum outcomes have been ignored by past politicians. Edit

  • Remember the vote on the stadiums? The citizens of six counties voted against the increase of the sales tax to build two new stadiums and a new convention center. The stadiums and convention center got built anyway.
  • The citizens of the city voted to form a Citizens Police Review Board. The board was formed, but has not been staffed with board members and has not been given its due by order of the Mayor and the Chief of Police.

Links to specific referendumsEdit

  • 9 to 7 - Vote to reduce Pittsburgh City Council from 9 to 7 members, sponsored by Jim Motznik.

History Referendums are rare in Pittsburgh. Edit

Those in power in Pittsburgh avoid referendums. Referenda are relatively rare occurrences.

Conventional wisdom says that referendums should be restricted to issues of major importance. Democracy itself, is a major concern. Referendums of minor importance could activate the political process and serve to kindle voter interest and engagement. With such a shortage of past referendums, any referendum effort is better than none at all.

Firefighters' Referendum of November 2004 was tossed off the ballot.Edit

Mayor Tom Murphy led the charge to deny the ballot question from appearing before the voters in the city. The Firefighters' Ballot Question did NOT appear before the voters despite the thousands of signatures collected on the petitions. The lack of democracy was a direct result of efforts of Mayor Tom Murphy. The firefighters had their question tossed out, just a week before the election.

Row-Office Consolidation Ballot QuestionEdit

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato submitted an ordinance to Allegheny County Council in early November, 2004, to consolidate the county's independently elected offices from 10 to two.

Onorato's proposed ordinance included a ballot question to amend the county's Home Rule Charter and consolidate the county's independently elected row offices from ten to two.

"As we look to the future of Allegheny County, we must decide which government services can be provided in a more efficient and consumer-oriented way," Onorato said. "Row office consolidation will save money and streamline operations. It is also the next logical step in Home Rule government in Allegheny County."

County council's passage of the ordinance chanced the ballot question that appeared before voters on the May 17, 2005, Municipal Primary Election. The ballot question from county council pushed the number of row offices from two (suggested by Onorato) to four. The reform was voted for by the voters and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2006.


As the ballot question was being considered in political circles, Mark Rauterkus called for a different set of choices to be put before the voters. Rather than a bundled package of reforming the row offices by elimination of some offices but not others, Rauterkus proposed individual questions for each row office. More insights via the blog.

Reduction of City Council SeatsEdit

Jim Roddey and the County Republicans did not want to see a ballot question on election day in November, 2003, as Jim Roddey was seeking a re-election. The ballot question had to do with the reduction of city council seats, from nine to five members. They assumed that more voters from the city would see a need to go to the polls and that would hinder Roddey's opportunities to win his race. In the end, the referendum didn't get put before the voters. City council is still with nine members. The city teeters on the verge of insolvency. And, Roddey lost his re-election bit.

Talking Edit

Use it or loose it. The slogan applies to democracy as well.
  • Referendum questions can drive people to the polls to vote.
Referendum questions can engage voters who are members of minor parties (i.e., Independent voters). Going to the polls on primary election days is generally not done by those who have not been registered as a "D" or an "R." Hot referendum can drive more voters to the polls, from all parties, and keep participation high.
  • Referendums are affordable.
  • Power with the people.
  • Voting is very American in its resolve to end disputes.
  • Grass-roots, low cost policies can sweep into action via referendums and make wonderful impacts upon the civic landscape.
  • Leaders in referendum efforts get to build connections, resumes, experiences and influence, without needing to back a specific candidate or be a candidate oneself.

Template:Art-tell-us What are your ideas for future ballot questions?Edit

What are some possible questions that you'd like to see put onto the ballots in the future?



  • Gaming board fighting 'meritless' appeals] The four lawsuits filed by losing applicants aren't the only fights the Gaming Control Board is facing due to its decisions on the casino licenses. Philadelphia City Council yesterday sided with citizens groups that are fighting the decision to place two casinos along the Delaware River. Council agreed to hold a [citywide referendum May 15, 2007 on whether casinos can be built within 1,500 feet of churches, schools or homes -- a rule that would knock out both Philadelphia casinos if it survives a legal challenge."
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