Town Square

Election Exemplary Of Initiative Process Faults

Original post made by Stacey on Nov 12, 2008

Frequent readers here may be familiar with my negative opinions about direct democracy. Most of my concern with it is in regards to the abuse that can lead to tyranny of the majority, as exemplified by the passage of Prop. 8. I was pleased to see that The San Jose Mercury News recently published an editorial on the initiative process. They don't reference Prop. 8, but they do point out other recent propositions that are exemplary of the way this process is abused.

"Editorial: Initiative process is in need of reform" Web Link

"Initiatives are a fiercely beloved exercise in democracy, but they are prone to error and manipulation, and they are tying up huge portions of the state budget. The progressive leaders who created the process never anticipated this."

As for Prop. 8, the fundamental issue isn't gay marriage but the usage of direct democracy by States to take away the rights of a group of people based upon a characteristic of that group in violation of both State and Federal Constitutions. That will eventually hit the Supreme Court like the proverbial brick.


Posted by unclehomerr.., a resident of Downtown
on Nov 12, 2008 at 5:25 pm

I'm getting tired of this.. "rights taken away" crap. Thank you Jerry Brown.

In order for a right to be taken away.. it has to exist in the first place. There has never been a 'right' for same sex marriage.

Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman. Get over it!

Gays have the right to marry... the opposite sex! They just choose to do it the illegal way!


Posted by unclehomerr.., a resident of Downtown
on Nov 12, 2008 at 5:27 pm

..and, don't play the 'hate' card. There's no 'hate' in the previous comment. Just a difference of opinion.. supported by the majority of voters. Twice.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 12, 2008 at 6:13 pm

I certainly haven't drawn from Jerry Brown in my conclusions. The problem with tyranny of the majority is a well-known issue in political theory regarding democracies.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Livermore
on Nov 12, 2008 at 6:37 pm

This comment is a borderline ethnic slur and is irrelevant to this post. It has been removed.

Posted by Evan Ravitz, a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2008 at 6:39 pm

Solutions to initiative problems have been generally agreed on and available for many decades. But legislators NEVER improve the process, only make it harder (not affecting the wealthy much) and hobbling it in various ways (this year, with AZ Prop. 105 and CO Ref. O, both wisely defeated by voters).

Voters on ballot initiatives need what legislators get: public hearings, expert testimony, amendments, reports, etc. The best project for such deliberative process is the National Initiative for Democracy, led by former Sen. Mike Gravel: Web Link. Also Web Link and Web Link

In Switzerland, petitions are left at government offices and stores for people to read and sign at leisure, so there are less aggressive petitioners, more informed signers, and less $ required. The Swiss vote on initiatives 3-7 times a year so there's never too many on one ballot. Because they have real power, the Swiss read more newspapers/capita than anyone else.

In Switzerland, representatives are humbler and more representative after centuries of local and cantonal (state) ballot initiatives, and national initiatives since 1891. They call their system "co-determination." This works for all relationships!

Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Nov 12, 2008 at 6:43 pm

The majority of voters IS the tyranny of the majority, as well understood by our founding fathers.

The above poster misses the central issue. Equal rights for all under our constitution does not mean to apply to only those rights that are currently recognized or traditionally recognized. For minority groups to claim their rights they often have to pursue those rights within our governmental system of laws. This was true for women gaining the right to vote and more recently the Civil Rights Law of 1964, which knocked down all of the southern state restrictions placed upon blacks. Using the poster's argument, since blacks never had those rights, nothing was being taken away from them.

Posted by Jerry, a resident of Oak Hill
on Nov 12, 2008 at 6:45 pm

Lets hope it hits the U. S. Supreme Court before the liberals get a chance to appoint Justices. If not, just raise the white flag...

While I agree with much of what was said in the Mercury News Editorial, I believe the initiative process is very necessary to keep in check a political body that refuses to listen to, or runs rough shod over, its citizens before they can be kicked out of office, which now days is virtually impossible. Once they get a taste of the public trough, they'll do whatever's necessary to stay there.

If voters do their homework, and I'm convinced most do, the "bad" initiatives will fail(I know, someone will bring up the tired, "But Prop 8 supporters didn't". But that's the way it goes).

The editorial stated, "They are prone to error and manipulation". While that may be true, nothing is perfect in this world. A great deal of our everyday life could be prone to error and manipulation if we so allowed.

Don't let the politicians touch it, leave it alone... Even though it may have it's flaws, it's our(the average citizen/taxpayer)defense against a corrupt politicial system... Prop 13 is an excellent example...

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 12, 2008 at 7:07 pm

Unfortunately, Prop 13 is the only example within over 100 years of the initiative process history in California that anyone is able to come up with as an "excellent example". That isn't saying much for the rest.

Posted by Jerry, a resident of Oak Hill
on Nov 12, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Maybe so, lacking a little research which I'm too lazy to do, but if there wasn't an initiative process at that time, a lot of good people, mostly senior citizens, would have been forced out of their homes.

In my opinion, that alone is justification for an initiative process...

Do everyone a favor and list those you feel are bad...

Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Nov 12, 2008 at 9:32 pm

That's easy. Almost ALL of them, which since Prop 13 probably number in the hundred's. And are growing in number at each election. Of course Prop 8 ranks among the worse.

The issue will eventually end up in the Supreme Court and, of course, the court being stacked by Bush with right wing ideologues the issue will be put to risk before a group who interprets the constitution upside down.

The Merc editorial is just the beginning of discussion shining light on this issue of use and abuse of the initiative process.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 12, 2008 at 9:56 pm

Well for starters, how about all the bond measures that keep getting approved and driving California's children and grandchildren further into debt?

Posted by Jerry, a resident of Oak Hill
on Nov 12, 2008 at 10:44 pm

Just vote "No" on anything that has dollar signs attached to it...

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 13, 2008 at 9:05 am

Here is an interesting article that compares the California and Switzerland forms of direct democracy, showing why it works well for the Swiss and poorly for California: Web Link

"Swiss direct democracy works in the opposite way. It's based not on the initiative but on the referendum. The Swiss constitution makes initiatives twice as hard to qualify as a referendum. A referendum needs only a simple majority of votes to pass, but an initiative must achieve a "double majority" to succeed – a majority of the national vote, and majorities in a majority of the country's 26 cantons, or provinces.


"A referendum is a conversation," a Swiss election official explained when I observed the country's referendum elections in 2005. "An initiative is a scream."


In California ... direct democracy relies on the initiative and becomes "more of an extension of politics as usual than a reliable process for making the voice of the people felt." Or to put it another way, California initiatives are too indirect – they provide us not with direct engagement with our state government but with a way to circumvent that government."

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 13, 2008 at 10:49 am

The author of the above article, Joe Mathews, also writes a blog called "The Blockbuster Democracy Blog" that readers may find interesting: Web Link

"Direct democracy -- the Switzerland-inspired system of initiatives, referenda and recalls that allows voters to make and repeal laws in 24 states -- is poorly understood. It isn't even very direct. Direct democracy has become blockbuster democracy: a half-billion-dollar international industry of signature gatherers, consultants, and election lawyers who use ballot measures less as a method of making law and more as a tool of mega-communications to boost some politicians, hurt others, and supplement lobbying campaigns.

Blockbuster democracy is a decentralized business that practices wide-open politics. This blog aims to provide a center of news, analysis and conversation for and about the industry. We will report from blockbuster democracy's capital -- California -- but we'll monitor ballot measures from across the country and around the globe."

Posted by ..., a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2008 at 12:23 pm

Web Link

Web Link

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 13, 2008 at 1:33 pm


And sadly that's why our government and our economy are so messed up. Democracy requires active citizenship in order to be effective and strong.

Posted by Don Person, a resident of Happy Valley
on Nov 14, 2008 at 10:35 am

Hey, one citizen one vote. The reasons for an electoral college are long gone. Sure the initiatives are manipulated but at least we get to vote on them. That seems better to me than a group of often self serving professional politicians making back room deals on the advice of lobbyists. It took an initiative to get redistricting and we need others about campaign financing, lobbyists, perks, separation of church and state, etc. We have very good representation, both Senator and Representatives, in Central California but there are too many single issue true believers, on both sides, in other areas of the country. There should be open primaries and winners decided by popular vote not political party.

Posted by john, a resident of Valley Trails
on Nov 14, 2008 at 12:49 pm

no Stacey - i think the economy is messed up because too many people spend too much time blogging when they should be working ! oops-gutta
go now, boss just came around the corner.....

Posted by just visiting, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2008 at 1:49 pm

John, ROFL! I'd say, blogging instead of spending!

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Nov 15, 2008 at 7:52 am

I still think that 8 will be decided in favor of the No on 8 crowd.

There is no place for discrimination against citizens in our constitution.

As for jerry brown, what a cluck...he wants to be guv again!
He must be nuts!!!

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2008 at 4:39 pm

(Comment deemed inappropriate by Pleasanton Weekly Online staff)

Posted by TwoWatchMind, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Nov 17, 2008 at 11:54 pm

TwoWatchMind is a registered user.

The Framers of the Constitution realized the inherent tendency toward "tyranny of the majority" in a direct democratic process such as the initiative.

"A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that [classical or direct] democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."
-James Madison, Federalist No 10

Posted by hamilton, a resident of Donlon Elementary School
on Nov 18, 2008 at 8:34 am

can you give a couple of examples from history TwoWatchMind that suppport this quote?

Posted by constitution buff, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 18, 2008 at 10:20 am

How about legalized segregation, Prop 187, Amendment 2 in Colorado, Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment, and the list can go on and on and on and on.

Posted by Tim, a resident of Del Prado
on Nov 18, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Stacey, I wonder if you would be as upset with our democracy if Prop 8 were to have failed by a close vote...

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2008 at 7:47 pm

Poll taxes, literacy tests, neighborhood covenants, de jure segregation, de facto segregation. . .

Posted by john, a resident of Donlon Elementary School
on Nov 19, 2008 at 8:59 am

constitutional buff-
prop187?? - you mean the one that said if you were in this country illegally, you could not get social services intended for US citizens? And then you jump back to WW2 and even further to the 1800's for other stuff ?
Heck, why not go back to when incest was a social norm and cannibalism was one of the 4 food groups and no, please please don't go on and on, i concede. I have no idea which ones were or were not referendums anyway.
Constitution is open to interpretation. One day, there are going to be organizations, some very militant, that are going to demand "rights"(per their interpretation of the constitution)that are going to appall you. Be fun to hear your viewpt on referendums then.

Posted by TwoWatchMind, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Nov 19, 2008 at 3:56 pm

-CA had a billion dollar per month deficet
-Prop 3 would add 2 billion to this
-Prop 61 passed in 2004, which gave hospitals a $750 million children's hospital bond
-According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, about $300 million is still unaccounted for
-Hospitals paid more than $90,000 to a Sacramento political consultant who is managing the Yes on Proposition 3 campaign. He received the standard 15 percent fee – nearly $200,000.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 20, 2008 at 10:38 am

Another article today, this time in the Valley Times, regarding the initiative process. Web Link

"California is the only state that doesn't let the Legislature or an initiative's proponent repeal or amend it.

All of this together means California's initiative process is among the most powerful; the most susceptible to deep-pocketed proponents; and the hardest to undo. It's little wonder no state has considered as many ballot initiatives as California in the past few decades — 67 in this decade alone, including this month's — or that so many lead to lawsuits."

Your question and my answer are irrelevant to the topic. The problems with the initiative process are widely know and have been studied by many other institutions.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 20, 2008 at 10:44 am

Nice... The article above has a list I was looking for earlier. Doesn't look like a complete list though (no Prop 22), but it will serve well enough for illustration.

California ballot initiatives invalidated by courts:
Proposition 14 (1964): Nullifying a state law against racial discrimination in home sales and renting
Proposition 15 (1964): Banning paid cable television
Proposition 21 (1972): Rolling back school desegregation measures including busing
Proposition 5 (1982): Repealing the state's inheritance and gift taxes
Proposition 68 (1988): Limiting political campaign contributions
Proposition 105 (1988): Requiring a variety of public disclosures from corporations, household cleaner manufacturers, nursing home operates, ballot initiative proponents and others
Proposition 164 (1992): Imposing term limits on California's members of Congress
Proposition 198 (1996): Creating blanket primary elections in which each voter's ballot lists every candidate regardless of party affiliation and lets the voter choose freely among them
Proposition 225 (1998): Instructing California's state and federal lawmakers to support a proposed U.S. constitutional amendment imposing congressional term limits