By 1900, reformers had organized a Maryland Direct Legislation
League, with A. G. Eichelberger as its president. Ten years later the
League claimed “more than 1,000 active, working members.” In 1914, the
League promoted an I&R bill sponsored by State Senator William J. Odgen
of Baltimore, but the legislature amended it to remove the initiative
provision. This “referendum only” amendment passed both houses in 1915
and was ratified by the voters. The following year the League pressed the
legislature for an initiative amendment. Their bill passed the senate with
only six dissenting votes, but was tabled (effectively killed) in the house by
a 66 to 27 vote. Never again did an initiative amendment come close to
approval. Charles J. Ogle, secretary of the League in 1916, attributed the
failure to the committee chairmen, “a very active lobby against” the
initiative amendment, and rural legislators’ fear of the Baltimore masses.

Since the referendum amendment was ratified in 1915, it has been
used 13 times by citizens to force a statewide popular vote on unpopular
laws passed by the legislature. In 1970, voters vetoed the legislature’s bill
regarding a Department of Economic and Community Development,
and in 1972 and 1974, they vetoed state aid to nonpublic schools. Until
1988, all subsequent referendum petitions failed because of either
insufficient signatures or court decisions barring ballot placement. In 1988,
however, the legislature passed a bill banning cheap handguns, and gun
control opponents responded with a petition drive that put the measure
on the ballot. Despite the record-breaking expenditure by the National
Rifle Association of more than $4 million for a “Vote No” campaign, voters
approved the law by a 58-percent margin.

Excerpted from the Initiative & Referendum Almanac by M. Dane Waters.