Thursday, October 9, 2008

Maybe Direct Isn't Such a Good Idea

Most elections in California require voters not only to choose candidates, but to take positions on a number of propositions ranging in topics from farm animals to abortion. This November is no different, with 12 statewide measures on the ballot. I’ve always been curious as to how and why this form of direct democracy was chosen to be the most beneficial way to create public policy. The ballot proposition has been around since the late 20th century during the Progressive era of government with a goal of allowing citizens to act when the Government was unable to do so. The problem is who actually has the time/patience to sit through and read each of the 12 cumbersome propositions?

I know I don’t and I love public policy. What ends up happening is that these campaigns are decided upon by voters with little to no information taken mainly from the millions of dollars poured into paid advertising from either side of the campaign, taking their cue from newspaper editors, or as what has happened recently just voting No on all of them. Because then we’ll at least be right back where we started.

The problem I have with the initiative process is the vast amounts of money/time wasted fighting for or against these measures. If that same amount of cash was donated to worthy non-profit organizations working in the area that we’re trying to affect change in, its hard to imagine how much legislation and progress could be made towards some of these goals of: reducing teenage abortion (access to birth control and quality sex education), reducing gang participation (improving local schools, after-school programs, improved access to extracurricular activities) or increasing the amount of renewable energy (better rebates on solar panels or investment in research to make these technologies more affordable).

The average citizen barely has enough time to make sure he/she is registered, figure out where their polling place is and show up on Election Day. How can they really be expected to research an additional 12 issues with opinions on either side that make the other look like the devil incarnate? I feel that the Progressive leaders of our past had good intentions, but the initiative process needs to be reformed if we want it to continue to provide an outlet for true direct democracy and not just those with a few million dollars and nothing better to do.


betsey said...

Oh, initiatives! Such a great topic. my old boss at USC, Elizabeth Garrett, is an expert on the initiative process and has written a TON about it. You should read some of her stuff. One of the things that she suggests (and that I LOVE) is the ability to sunset initiatives that are passed. That that have to be passed again in a set number of years, so we don't end up with things like Prop 13 guiding budget policy for YEARS to come. Seriously, take a look at Beth Garrett's work. She's got some great stuff.

ben.coria said...

I think you have great points. My argument: Why is it too much to ask of citizens? As citizens, it is our responsibility to register, research and vote. It is our responsibility to participate in our government. I agree that it takes a lot of time; one problem is our whole culture of laziness. The other side of this is of course that many of these decisions are beyond the scope of understanding for average persons. Is there a way to filter initiatives based on this? Some things are appropiate for voting. Some are better decided by experts...

Nicatator said...

I hate Initiatives. Why vote in legislators? Oh, that's right, our legislators don't know what they're doing either so what's the harm of letting a bunch of uneducated voters make public policy decisions. And here I thought I lived in a representative democracy. I guess that explains why we would even conceive of putting an "average josephine" on the presidential ticket. But I digress.

The best thing that can happen in california, arizona, colorado and all this ridiculous states is to abolish the initiative process, elect representatives that will legislate, and hold them accountable to their voting record, their ability to build consensus, etc. In other words, a policy expert who has been entrusted by the voters in their district to make decisions on their behalf. Gasp.

In the mean time, we the people, will continue to be at the mercy of those who fund good or BAD initiatives and the uneducated electorate-and I am one of them because I sometimes don't understand what the hell is going in my ballot-who pass or turn down this initiative, and then we'll go to court and spend money we should be using to improve our state.

toeknee said...

Whoa, your bearded friend commented on one of your entries for the very first time.