Initiatives, Referenda and Recall
Initiatives, Referenda and Recall
The Green Party believes that the initiative/referendum/recall process is an essential part of California politics and, on balance, a useful way of furthering grassroots democracy.
The initiative is the power of the citizenry to act as legislators in proposing statutes and amendments to the California Constitution. It was established in 1911—along with referenda and recall—as part of the Progressive Movement. There have been over 1,700 initiatives submitted over the past century, with roughly one-fifth qualifying for the ballot. Past elections have seen an abundance of initiatives that have been variously received by the voters.
Make process more accessible by signatures, especially for volunteers.
Perhaps the most damaging elements of the California initiative process from a Green perspective are the cost and time constraints involved in ballot qualification. In order to qualify, supporters must gather the signatures of five percent of the registered voters within 150 days. In practice, considerable organizational talent and large sums of money are needed to qualify (at least 50 cents per signature). The professionals who gather such signatures are not interested in educating the voters about the issues. They have found that many Californians, when properly approached, will put an initiative on the ballot without knowing more about it than its title.
Currently, changes in the law are being planned that would make the process even less accessible to voters.
irect democracy in California (the initiative, the referendum and the recall) is over 100 years old in California. These reforms came about because the voters were tired of the Southern Pacific Railroad dominating the California Legislature and blocking any legislation that hurt the train company.
Since the advent of the process, California voters have enacted many initiatives that the Legislature refused to pass, such as the Political Reform Act of 1974, cigarette tax increases, medical marijuana, three strikes for criminals and a reduction of penalties for nonviolent criminals.
The problem with our initiative system: It is too easy to qualify a measure if you have the money to do so (between $1 million and $2 million), but it is very difficult to qualify an initiative without money. You need to gather between 500,000 and 700,000 signatures (depending on whether your measure is statutory or amends the state Constitution.)
The Green Party supports the use of petitionary referenda as a viable recourse in keeping elected officials sensitive to significant issues and public opinion. The petitionary referenda gives citizens the chance to repeal bills recently passed by the legislature and approved by the governor.
In contrast to the initiative, the use of petitionary referenda is in decline - only six petitionary referenda have qualified for the ballot since 1940. This is due, in part, to the referendum process: proponents of a referendum must gather a number of signatures equal to five percent of the votes cast for the governor in the last election, and must do so within 90 days of the bill's passage. The referendum process excludes certain types of bills such as tax levies, appropriation measures, calls for special elections, etc.
California’s direct democracy is dominated by the initiative -- the tool that permits citizens to propose and enact laws directly, without any review or consultation by the legislature.
As in the case of the initiative and referendum, the recall process gives citizens a chance to practice grassroots democracy by removing elected officials who are disapproved of by a majority of voters.
Rarely has a recall effort against a state-level officeholder ever qualified for the ballot. It has sometimes been abused by groups seeking political ends other than removing an officeholder who they feel has performed poorly. Also, some citizens simply don't understand the meaning of the term "recall."
The process can e improved by improving the drafting process, having the legislature be able to adopt the measure
The Green Party proposes:
- Initiative sponsors should be required to submit draft proposals to an impartial and nonpartisan, official authority, such as the Legislative Analyst’s Office (for statewide measures), for a pre-circulation review of clarity/language, constitutionality/legality, and single subject. The opinions resulting from the pre-circulation review should be made public.
Initiative proposals should be limited to a single subject.
Initiative proposals should be written in language that is precise, clear, and understandable and meets standards of readability.
Initiatives should include a provision providing for an automatic review or expiration of the measure, as appropriate.
Initiatives with provisions that would require funding should specify the sources or method(s) of providing the funding.
Title and Summary
The title and summary should be written by an impartial and non-partisan official authority, such as the Legislative Analyst's Office (for statewide measures).
- Extend the number of days that a measure could be circulated from 180 days to a full year. This would allow grass-roots proponents a chance to get signatures without having to pay large sums for professional circulators.
If appropriate security safeguards are in place, Internet and/or other electronic technology should be allowed for signature gathering.
- Establish a hould have a system of registration and training for signature gatherers.
The standard to qualify an initiative constitutional amendment should be higher than that for an initiative statute.
initiatives amending the constitution must be approved in two consecutive general elections.
The Green Party advocates reforming the initiative process:
Extend the period of time for gathering signatures to 180 days.
Require that at least 15% of all signatures be gathered by unpaid volunteers.
Require both proponents and opponents of an initiative to inform the voters about the issues, using government-sponsored means.
Require that organizational proponents of initiatives be prominently listed at the beginning of every initiative.
Require the Legislature to hold a hearing on the measure before it qualifies for the ballot. If the Legislature passes the measure in a form suitable to the drafters of the initiative, it would be taken off the ballot. This proposal might mean a reduction of one or two initiatives that voters would have to consider at the ballot box.
Eight states currently offer an indirect initiative process. In the indirect initiative process, a proposed initiative is referred to the legislature after proponents have gathered the required number of signatures. The legislature has the option to enact, defeat or amend the measure. Depending on the legislature's action, the proponents may continue to pursue placement on the ballot for a popular vote. In three states (Massachusetts, Ohio and Utah), proponents must gather additional signatures to place the measure on the ballot; in the others, it automatically goes to the ballot.
a. Requirements should be retained for:
1) direct initiative statute--valid signatures numbering 5 percent of the total vote for all candidates for governor in the gubernatorial election, 150 days to collect signatures;
2) direct initiatie constitutional amendment--valid signatures numbering 8 percent of the total vote for all candidates for governor in the gubernatorial election, 150 days to collect signatures;
b. The filing fee should reflect costs of processing initiative and referendum proposals. c. No requirement for geographic distribution should be imposed. d. Solicitation of signatures and campaign funds in the same mailing should be allowed. e.
a. Realistic limits should be imposed on contributions by individuals and groups to initiative and referendum campaigns. b. Realistic limits should be imposed on expenditures by individuals and groups in initiative and referendum campaigns. c. There should be provision for free time for radio and TV information programs for initiative campaigns. d. No public financing should be provided for initiative and referendum campaigns. e. The legislature should conduct public hearings on initiative and referendum proposals around the state, with adequate public notice. f. Ballot pamphlet analyses of initiative and referendum measures should be written for the reading level of the average citizen. g. The ballot label and ballot pamphlet should clearly indicate the effect of a yes vote and a no vote.
a. Sponsors of an initiative or referendum and organizations that form a committee to support or oppose a measure should be required to be listed by name in the ballot pamphlet, in mailings, and in advertisements. b. Principal contributors to an initiative or referendum campaign should be required to be listed by name in the ballot pamphlet, in mailings, and in advertisements. c. Initiative and referendum committees should be required to use names that reflect their true economic or special interest.
a. Voting on initiatives should take place at primary and general elections but not at special elections. b. An initiative statute, or a legislative statute appearing on the ballot as a referendum, should be approved by a simple majority of those voting on the measure to take effect. c. The standard to pass an initiative constitutional amendment should be higher than a simple majority vote. d. An initiative statute or constitutional amendment that imposes a new requirement for passage of future initiatives should meet the same requirement. e. An initiative statute or constitutional amendment that requires a supermajority vote for passage of future related issues should be required to receive the same supermajority vote approval for its passage. g. An initiative should not be allowed to provide for different outcomes depending upon the percentage of votes cast in its favor.
a. Under limited circumstances, the legislature, without approval by the voters, should be allowed to amend a statute adopted by initiative. Circumstances could include that the amendments are consistent with the original intent of the initiative or are made after a waiting period. b. Approval by the voters should be required to amend constitutional amendments adopted by initiative c. If two or more initiatives with conflicting provisions pass at the same election, the initiative receiving the greatest number of votes should be enacted. d. Initiative proposals that do not win voter approval should be allowed to appear on subsequent ballots without restriction, if they again meet qualification requirements.
Two elections for a constitutional change.
10. Legal Aspects
a. The definition of “single subject” pertaining to initiatives should be redefined to ensure stricter interpretation and stricter enforcement. b. Constitutional challenges to voter-approved initiatives being reviewed in t
After the legislative hearing, allow the proponents to amend their measure without having to recirculate it, provided the amendments are approved by the Attorney General’s Office as being consistent with the purposes and goals of the original initiative. This proposal would make for better drafted measures.
Allow the Legislature to amend any statutory initiative that is approved by the voters by a two-thirds vote provided the legislative amendments further the purposes of the initiative. Most initiatives today allow such amendments, but some do not. This proposal would reduce the need for another measure to clean up the original initiative.
Improving the initiative process. The public’s support for increased transparency around initiative campaign funders is evident in a number of reform ideas. This is note- worthy in the context of the rise of independent expenditure groups after the Citizens United ruling and recent concerns about out-of-state spending in the November 2012 state election. Eight in 10 adults (78%) and likely voters (84%) favor increasing public disclosure of funding sources for signature gathering and initiative campaigns. Partisans show similar levels of support for this reform (81% Democrats, 80% Republicans, and 85% inde- pendents). Support for increased disclosure of initiative funders is more than 65 percent across regional and demographic groups. Support for increasing public disclosure has been more than 70 percent since we first asked this question in 2005. The idea of having the yes and no sides of initiative campaigns participate in a series of televised debates also has high levels of support. It is favored by 75 percent of adults, 76 percent of likely voters, and overwhelming majorities of Democrats (73%), Republicans (71%), and independents (84%). Televised debates had the strong endorsement of election voters in surveys after the November 2008 election (72%) and the November 2005 special election (77%).21 Californians may complain about too many initiatives, but many like the idea of weigh- ing in again on initiatives that have already passed. Strong majorities of adults (64%) and likely voters (64%) favor requiring voters to renew initiatives after a certain number of years by voting on them again. There is majority support among Democrats (68%), Republicans (61%), and independents (72%), and majority support across regional and demographic groups. aT Issue: [ RefoRmIng CalIfoRnIa’s InITIaTIve PRoCess ] PPIC 12 Consistent with the belief that moneyed interest groups have too much control over the initiative process, 72 percent of adults and 75 percent of likely voters are in favor of giv- ing initiative sponsors more time if they are using volunteers rather than paid workers to gather signatures. Favor for this proposal is overwhelming among Democrats (74%), Republicans (76%), and independents (79%), and solid majorities express support across regional and demographic groups.
Californian politicians and interests groups are now so well-armed that the state is like a shooting range that never closes. Initiatives are as common as sunshine, with dozens filed each year (including a record 152 in 2005). Since Johnson’s time, more than 105 initiatives have been approved by voters. In contrast, referenda -- a ballot measure that allows citizens to reverse an act of the legislature -- are rare. Only 60 have been filed since 1914, and only 14 have been successful. Why the disparity? Initiatives are more powerful than referenda, but the state constitution makes initiatives easier to qualify for the ballot than referenda (the number of signatures required is the same, and the initiative deadlines are looser) and just as easy to pass at the ballot (a simple majority is all that’s needed). Why go to the trouble of battling the legislature over a law when you can make your own law just as cheaply and take it to the people?
The Swiss system is set up differently. At its center is not the initiative but the referendum. Switzerland makes initiatives twice as hard to qualify as referendum (100,000 signatures vs. 50,000 signatures) and much harder to pass. A referendum needs only a simple majority, but an initiative must achieve a “double majority” to succeed -- a majority of the popular vote, and a majority approval in the country’s 23 cantons, or provinces. Initiatives are thus much rarer than referenda because they so often fail -- the success rate is just 9 percent. (In California this decade, a historically difficult time for passing initiatives, voters have approved 30 percent of initiatives). Over the last century, Switzerland and California have had almost the exact same number of signature-qualified ballot measures, but most of the Swiss measures are referenda. The resulting political culture promotes consensus. Major legislation often goes to the people multiple times before the public approves. (Women’s suffrage, consumer protection legislation, value added taxes and excise taxes all came to pass this way). Lawmakers and the public are thus partners, kicking ideas back and forth. The initiative is seen as a way to make a point; the referendum offers the possibility of truly direct action--the ability to pass or strike down a law. “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.”
The Green Party recommends that we reactivate the referendum process:
Require companies doing business in the California initiative industry to set aside a portion of their revenues and facilities for use by groups unable to pay full fare for such services.
Reduce the number of signatures required to qualify a referendum for the ballot to three percent of the votes cast for the governor in the last election.
a. Requirements should be retained for:
3) referendum on a legislative statute—valid signatures numbering 5 percent of the total vote for all candidates for governor in the last gubernatorial election, 90 days to collect signatures.
The Green Party proposes simplifying the recall process:
Substitute the term "removal" for "recall."
Require all signatures for a removal effort be obtained through voluntary solicitation.