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Introducing: When the People Decide

35 minutes

We are excited to share the first episode of a new narrative series on ballot initiatives from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy: When the People Decide. 

In this reported series, Jenna Spinelle tells the stories of activists, legislators, academics, and average citizens who changed their cities, states, and the country by taking important issues directly to votes — like Medicaid expansion in Idaho, sentencing reform in California, and LGBTQ workplace protections in Ohio. 

This episode tells the story of a campaign in Michigan to end partisan gerrymandering in 2018 and shows how it is part of a legacy of ballot initiatives dating back to the 1800s. After becoming disillusioned with the results of the 2016 election, Katie Fahey took to Facebook to gauge the interest of grassroots mobilization amongst her colleagues, friends and family. 

Now the executive director of a nonpartisan voter reform organization, Fahey shares how the ballot initiative excited everyday people about becoming active in politics, including its 10,000 volunteers, and how they were inspired to make political changes in their communities. We also hear from historian Steven Piott about the unlikely origin of the initiative and referendum in the United States at the turn of the 20th century.

New episodes will be released throughout the summer. Subscribe to When the People Decide in your podcast app:

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Learn more about the podcast at and follow us on Twitter @PeopleDecidePod.


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