Initiatives, Referenda and Recall

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Initiatives, Referenda and Recall

The Green Party supports direct democracy through the initiative, the referendum and the recall; and seeks to retain and enhance these important institutions.

The strength of the initiative process is that it gives the citizenry the ability to by-pass the legislature and act directly as legislators themselves, in proposing statutes and amendments to the California Constitution -- an important check and balance when elected officials are deemed non-responsive to public concerns.

The weakness of the initiative process is the degree to which all phases are determined by money, from qualifying for the ballot, to waging a statewide campaign. It takes between $1 million and $2 million just to gather the necessary 500,000 and 700,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot (depending on whether the measure is statutory or amends the state Constitution.) Signatures also have to be gathered over a relatively short time period, making the task even more difficult..

Greens support amending the initiative process to make it easier for regular citizens to qualify a measure through volunteer-based efforts; and at the same time, Greens support requiring increased financial disclosure for major contributors for all ballot measures.

Greens also support the role of referenda.

- are bought by being bale to get on the ballot and pass something, rather than the work of going through the legislature.

Greens also look at

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?

is over 100 years old in California. 

seeks to retain and improve th

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.

It was established in 1911—along with referenda and recall—as part of the Progressive Movement. There have been over 1,900 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.

Greens also support amending the process to provide for measure to be improved and revised during the drafting process and after qualified...

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 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.

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 Green Party proposes:



- Initiative proposals should be written in language that is precise, clear, and understandable and meets standards of readability.

- 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 this pre-circulation review should be made public.

Initiatives with provisions that would require funding should specify the sources or method(s) of providing the funding.

Initiative proposals should be limited to a single subject. The definition of “single subject” should ensure clear interpretation and strict enforcement.

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).

Signature Gathering

- Extend the number of days that a measure could be circulated from 180 days to a full year and/or give initiative sponsors more time if they are using volunteers to gather signatures, rather than paid workers to gather signatures.

. 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 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.

- Establish an indirect initiative process, where a proposed initiative is referred to the legislature after proponents have gathered the required number of signatures; then the legislature has the option to enact, reject or amend the measure; and if not enacted by the legislature, the proponents may continue to pursue placement on the ballot for a popular vote.

5. Qualification

    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.

6. Campaign

   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.


Increasing public disclosure of funding sources for signature gathering and initiative campaigns, including

- 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.

- 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.

- Initiative and referendum committees should be required to use names that reflect their true economic or special interest.


- Just as there are pro/con arguments in the voter information guide, yes and no sides of initiative campaigns participate in a series of televised debates

- Voting on initiatives should take place at primary and general elections but not at special elections.

Approval Thresholds

- 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.

- The standard to pass an initiative constitutional amendment should be higher than a simple majority vote; initiatives amending the constitution must be approved in two consecutive general elections.

- An initiative statute or constitutional amendment that imposes a new requirement for passage of future initiatives should meet the same requirement.

- An initiative statute or constitutional amendment that requires a super-majority vote for passage of future related issues should be required to receive the same super-majority vote approval for its passage.

- An initiative should not be allowed to provide for different outcomes depending upon the percentage of votes cast in its favor.

9. Post-Election

   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.

Initiatives should include a provision providing for an automatic review or expiration of the measure, as appropriate.

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.

Two elections for a constitutional change.

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.

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 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? c

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.