MIRS reviewed state records going back to 1964, the year after the current state constitution was adopted, and found each presidential election year has had at least one proposal on the statewide November ballot. And usually, there was more than one. For example, 1964 had one, but 1980 saw seven.
The year 1990, a gubernatorial election, was the only even-numbered election year since at least 1964 that MIRS didn't find a statewide proposal on the November ballot, according to information supplied by the Michigan Secretary of State.
Committees have until June 1 for legislative initiatives and July 11 for constitutional amendments to submit their signatures to the state. There's been 12 groups that have had a petition approved for circulation.
Several groups -- including at least one of the marijuana legalization committees, the anti-fracking group and a coalition pushing for paid sick leave -- are known to still be actively collecting signatures.
But Lansing observers said those groups have largely lacked the substantial financial backing needed to pay for enough signatures, leaving the likelihood for appearing on the ballot low.
"The prospects of anything making the ballot . . . are pretty dim at this point in time," said Tom SHIELDS of Marketing Resource Group.
Dave WAYMIRE, partner at Martin Waymire, said, "I don't see anything that's out there that's collecting signatures at a rate that makes me think they'll meet the June 1 deadline. And June 1 is not very far away."
The latest campaign finance filings for those groups, released Monday and covering February through April, back those assertions.
"The proposals that are out there have not been very well funded," Shields said.
MILegalize, one of the marijuana legalization campaigns, has raised more than $848,000 this cycle, but they've also pushed to make it easier to validate older signatures, and the campaign's leader recently said making the deadline is "going to be a nail-biter to the end."
The group that has consistently had the most money -- Protecting Michigan Taxpayers (PMT) -- had to restart its campaign after a botched first attempt.
Even if PMT does get the signatures before June 1, the Legislature could take up the prevailing wage repeal initiative, meaning it wouldn't go to the ballot.
Lansing observers pointed to 2012 as the possible culprit for why there isn't more money pushing these campaigns across the finish line. Five constitutional amendments were rejected by voters that year, but a referendum was successful in turning over the state's emergency manager law.
"I think what happened in 2012 kind of dealt a psychological blow to a lot of the enthusiasm for . . . amending the constitution or putting things on the ballot," said Bill BALLENGER of The Ballenger Report.
"Are the interest groups and others that ordinarily would be expected to raise money realizing, based on the election results of 2012, this isn't a very good idea?" Ballenger asked.
Waymire attributed this year's ballot proposal phenomenon to three factors. On the left, he said the passage of Right to Work in 2012 limited labor money available to throw toward these efforts. On the right, conservative groups don't have much need to advance an issue via ballot proposal, as Republicans control the Legislature and Governor's office.
And the price of running a ballot campaign continues to go up, Waymire said.
"You gotta have a big chunk of change," he said, including $1 to $2 million just to get on the ballot.
And passage is by no means a guarantee: According to the Secretary of State, constitutional amendments have been 43 percent successful (32 of 74 approved) since 1963, legislative referendums have been 45 percent successful (11 of 24 approved) and legislative initiatives have been 53 percent successful (7 of 13 approved).
"It's a potential payoff for your investment," Shields said. "It's going to cost a lot more to put it on the ballot, and the likelihood of it being passed, depending on what it is, seems to be against you these days."
Shields also noted the added cost of running petition campaigns. He said signatures used to go for $1 a pop, but now it's more like $2 or $3 a signature. Sometimes it's as much as $4 or $5.
But both Shields and Ballenger said that, in general, interest in running ballot proposal campaigns can vary over the years.
"You'll find that there's an ebb and flow," Ballenger said. "Every once in a while, there just seems to be growing excitement about ballot proposals . . . but in between, they get discouraged because they don't do very well, they lose a lot of money in being defeated, and they just decide this isn't worth it, let's back away.
"And that lasts for a certain period of time. Then something else develops that reignites interest," he said.