A quick look at this year's scorecard for ballot initiatives and referenda reveals a surprise result: Qualifying a measure for the California ballot appears to have gotten a lot harder than it used to be.

This means the threat made so often by displeased politicians and other factions -- "Cross me and I'll run an initiative or referendum to change what you've done" -- has lost a lot of its impact.

For years, these ballot measures -- initiatives are new laws, while referenda attempt to repeal bills the Legislature has passed and the governor signed, but which have not yet taken effect -- were the easy province of almost anyone with a pet cause and a lot of money.

Initiatives are a lot more common, so much so that many voters simply call every proposition on the ballot by that name, ignoring the distinction between measures placed there by gathering voter signatures and those proposed by the Legislature.

Almost every interest group conceivable has managed to qualify some sort of measure for the ballot: Tobacco companies tried to roll back smoking regulations, insurance companies have repeatedly tried to bamboozle voters into giving them more money, fringe politicians like Lyndon LaRouche have made oddball attempts, and others have tried to pass myriad new taxes and regulations.