Direct democracy is a way for average people like you and I to take care of public issues rather than leaving it up to representatives. Direct democracy can be applied in three different forms. The first is known as the initiative. Regular people, the voters, can take the problems we are facing in society and create laws that may eventually end up on the ballot. First off, there has to be a petition that is developed and sent to the attorney general for approval. Then, within 150 days the petition must be signed by no less than 8% of all the votes cast for all the gubernatorial candidates in the previous election. All of the signatures must be validated by the secretary of state. So generally, the petition organizers must collect far more than 8% due to the fact that some of the signatures will be from unregistered, illegal, or voters from another state. This is sometimes an extremely difficult process to accomplish because only 150 days are allowed, but if it is done, this issue will appear on the next statewide ballot. Since a vast majority of these issues are very controversial, it is hard to find people that are willing to sponsor them. The reason for this is because once the initiative is passed, it is much more difficult to get it reversed.
The next form of direct democracy is the referendum. Referendum is the way in which a law that has already been passed can be stopped, except for urgency laws, which immediately go into effect. The referendum petition must be circulated and completely signed within 90 days of the passage of the law. The required number of signatures it takes to make the referendum valid is the same as it is for the initiative. Once this is completed, the law is suspended until the next election. If at that time voters change their minds they are able to revote. Referendums are rare. Within the last fifty years there has only been five presented to Californians.
Third type of direct democracy is the recall. Recall enables voters to remove an elected official from their position for any reason before their term has ended. Just as the other two do, the recall starts with a petition. The signatures for this petition must come from at least five counties and equal 12% of the votes that were cast for that position in the previous election. This 12% is only the amount required to remove a statewide officer. The requirement for state officials such as judges is larger, due to the fact that their positions are much harder to receive; they must attain 20% of the voter’s signatures to be recalled. Recall supporters are only allowed 160 days to get all of the required signatures, and have them into the hands of the secretary of state. It seems that voters want to pay extra close attention to who they vote into office, because once their in, the people become more powerless and it is quite difficult to get them out.
If the required number of signatures is gathered, the governor must hold a recall election within 60 to 80 days. Only a majority vote,50%+1, is needed to recall and a plurality vote, more votes than anyone else, is needed to bring in a new official. This is quite frequent at the local level, but has never been taken seriously at the statewide level. The allowance of money the official can use in attempt to defeat the recall should be taken into consideration, because if they lose the funds will come from their own pocket. If they succeed in fighting they will be reimbursed by the state. Recall has nothing to do with impeachment. It is a process done by the voters, whereas impeachment is decided by the legislature.
The initiative has become very popular in recent decades because the legislature has become more afraid of the threats to get them out of office if they do not respond to the voters needs. It’s no skin off the voters’ backs if these initiatives do not get passed, but if they do, it shows that the officials have not been tending to the needs of the voters and proves them to be inefficient and unable to represent the people in a productive way. Many officials want to save themselves from this kind of humiliation, so more and more we see them joining in to help with the efforts of initiatives. They do not try to oppose them as much anymore. Now they are willing to bend, so that their position will not be taken away from them in future elections.
Once people began to notice that initiatives were more easily passed, the sky became the limit. The people are no longer afraid to stand outside of the local supermarkets looking to receive the signatures for their petitions. We have realized that the majority rules, and if the legislature won’t listen, we’ll make them. It is easy and the amount of time it takes is worth it to the initiative supporters. People are finally catching on, and initiatives have become a fast growing trend in politics.
A couple of significant initiatives that were on the March 2000 ballot were proposition 21 and 27. Proposition 21, also known as Juvenile Crime deals with Californians wanting harsher punishment for gang-related felonies; death penalty for gang-related murder; indeterminate life sentences for home-invasion robbery, car jacking, witness intimidation and drive by shootings. It also states that youths 14 years or older charged with murder or sexual offenses must be tried as adults. Basically this initiative is cracking down on so many out of control California juveniles, allowing them no longer to think that just because they are not 18 they will not get in trouble for serious crimes.
Proposition 27 holds the title of Term Limits. This is a big issue with Californians because as of now elected officials can stay in office as long as they are reelected, unless they have been recalled. On one side, people see term limits as a good way to bring in fresh new ideas to Sacramento through newly elected officials. Those officials that are elected into office and remain their only a short amount of time seem more willing to listen to what the people want and stay closely connected with the issues they need to deal with. When officials remain in office too long, arrogance and corruption gets the best of them. They begin to think that they are being reelected to their position because of what they do and forget that without the people they would not be there. They also become more willing to anything to stay in office including things such as giving or receiving bribes. On the other hand, experience is a very good thing. Seniority is required to head the committees that direct federal spending, and with term limits seniority will be impossible and money will go to the other states that do not have term limits.
Some of the pros of the widespread use of initiatives are that citizens can vote for what they want. If there is a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting solved, people can get a petition approved and begin getting the signatures needed. Initiatives also let the government know that citizens will not let down. The people want to play a role in the government and are sick of not being listened to. With this form of democracy people really do have say in what needs to be accomplished.
Some of the cons of initiatives are that it is very possible for the petition to be poorly written. If the petition is hard to understand people are sometimes apprehensive about signing it. Without the required signatures, the initiative will not make it to the ballot. Another argument is that it impairs representative government. This means that the people elected to make the most crucial decisions would be getting paid to do nothing because the people would be doing their jobs for them. It would almost mean that the entire government structure would need to be redesigned because some of the middlemen would not be needed any longer.
Direct democracy is great way for the public to be involved in the say of what needs to be done to make improvements to our country. With this form of government, the voices of the people will be heard. We no longer need to depend on representatives that may not agree with what we want. We can do it on our own. It feels good to know that any individual, no matter who they are, can make a difference.