The "Progressive Era" of American political reform (1890s through 1920s) brought three populist provisions to the Nevada Constitution: initiative, referendum, and recall. The initiative process enables voters to propose and enact laws by a vote of the people. In 1909 and again in 1911, as required by the constitution, the Nevada legislature passed legislation to provide for initiative petitions to enact new laws. The initiative amendment was approved by the voters at the general election of 1912 by a vote of 9,956 to 1,027.

The initiative process is divided into two categories: amending the constitution and creating a new state statute. Nevada's initiative process for amending the constitution is considered "direct": a person circulates a petition proposing a constitutional amendment, gathers the required number of signatures and the question is placed on the ballot for a vote of the people. It must be approved in two consecutive general elections. The process to amend or create a new statute is "indirect": after the petition is successfully circulated, the measure is presented to the legislature for action. If the legislature adopts the proposal, it becomes law. If the legislature fails to pass the measure as submitted, the question is placed on the next general election ballot for a vote of the people.

As with referendum, the number of signatures for either form of initiative petition must be at least equal to ten percent of the number of voters who voted in the preceding general election. Additionally, in 1958 the voters made initiatives to amend the constitution more difficult by requiring that signatures be gathered in at least seventy-five percent of the counties in the state. However, this provision has been the subject of court challenges on the claim that it violates federal voting protections.

The initiative process was used infrequently until 1980. Since then, with the exception of elections in 1986 and 1992, one initiative appeared on every general election ballot between 1980 and 2006. Notable initiatives include constitutional amendments addressing the right to work, property taxes, personal income tax, term limits on elected office, campaign contribution limits, and recognition of marriage only between persons of the opposite sex.

In 1967 the legislature expanded the initiative process to include county and city ordinances. This process is codified in Chapter 295 of the Nevada Revised Statutes.

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