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.