What’s an Advisory Referendum and why is it seldom used?

An advisory referendum is a non-binding ballot based question(s) to the electorate, the voters of a specific area, which is used by officials to gauge a more decisive interpretation of public .  More fairly put, it is a way for the people to have meaningful input in matters usually decided for them or what I refer to as True Representation.

The advisory referendum can be brought about in two ways.  The Governing Body can present it to the voter by authorizing it on the ballot or the People can initiate it by request and if denied by presenting a signed petition in number of at least 15% of the vote in the last gubernatorial election.  This is allowed under WI ss. 9.20.

It is seldom used because most elected officials will claim to have the ‘pulse of the people’ and feel that its use only seeks to undermines their authority.   I believe any reasoning against its use unfairly compromises a voter’s voice, as their collective voices on a vote of a specific ballot question would be the true measure of their resolve.

A personal example of my experiences with advisory referendums:

Submitted to the Superior City Council for the Jan 2011 meeting:

    Superior City Council:

    RE:  Fill the ballot initiative

    I respectfully submit this request for consideration by the Superior City Council:

    Before the official April spring ballot is set there will be an estimated 48 inches of unused ballot column space.  Rather than go unused, this ballot space should be fully utilized and contain non-binding advisory questions to better help the city council and our next mayor in representing the needs and wants of the people of Superior.

    I would like to request that the city council set a committee of volunteers to handle questions submitted by the people of Superior and to choose from the pool of questions those that are most popular by number and those that are most beneficial to the City of Superior and to include them on the April 2011 ballot.  It is noted, that in discussions with the city clerk, this request is not expected to materially raise the cost of ballots, if any at all.

    Thank you for your consideration,

    Don Raihala

That letter, as read by the clerk to the council, resulted in a without hesitation ‘motion to receive and file’.  Which essentially means to forever bury the request without discussion.  It was only after the clerk pointed out that I was present did a courtesy discussion occur after a councilor, whom we shared a good friend - tax payer advocate Kevin Peterson, ask that I come forward and address my intent.  Moments later, the same motion was made and seconded ending the request without further debate.