Initiatives, Referenda and Recall

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Initiatives, Referenda and Recall

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

The strength of the initiative process is that it gives citizens the ability to by-pass the legislature and act directly as legislators themselves, in proposing statutes and amendments to the California Constitution -- an important ability when elected officials are deemed non-responsive to public concerns. The weakness of the initiative process is the degree to which all phases can be determined by big money, from qualifying for the ballot, to waging statewide election campaigns.

Originally intended as a way for citizen voters to access the government structure, the initiative process has become a large-scale commercial and fundraising enterprise -- it can cost millions of dollars and require a great deal of organization just to gather the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot; and signatures must to be gathered over a relatively short time period, making the task difficult and costly. Then there is the influential role that for-profit signature-gathering companies play in determining the cost of our democracy, and even whose initiatives get circulated.

In response, Greens support making it easier for volunteer-based efforts to qualify initiatives and referenda; and at the same time support increased financial disclosure for ballot measures by identifying their major contributors.

At the same time Greens believe in fair access to the ballot, we seek to ensure that what is on the ballot.

To avoid legal issues and drafting errors - Greens preliminary review and revision for proposed initiatives errors. California currently has the least flexible process in the United States regarding improving initiatives in this manner. Greens also support

Then there is the question of amending the constitution vs. statueatory

Greens also see an increased role for referenda, which gives voters the power to approve or reject statutes enacted by the Legislature. Currently it is far more difficult to qualify a referendum than an initiative, and the number of initiatives filed dwarfs that of referenda. Greens would lower the number of signatures needed to qualify a referendum.

Whereas initiatives by-pass the legislature, referenda engage it, by letting the legislature do its work, then giving citizens the ability to approve or reject it. This sets up the potential for a more interactive process, where major legislation could go to the people multiple times before receiving public approval.

he 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.

Recall is a procedure that allows citizens to remove and replace a public official before the end of a term of office.

A recent, high-profile example of the recall process was the recall of California Governor Gray Davis and his replacement with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.

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.

v Spending on initiative campaigns had risen by 750 percent peaking in the 2006 general election only to be surpassed by the recent election in fall 2012.

Professional petitioning has always been an aspect of the process in California, but the steady and rapid increase of the state's population aided in the expansion of the business.

Make the process more efficient. Many initiatives on the ballot Also, initiatives approved by voters without "sunset limits" require yet another initiative at a future date to change existing legislation.

The Green Party proposes:

Signature Gathering

- Extend the number of days to qualify for the ballot for an initiative proposal from 180 days to a full year, and/or weigh more highly the signatures obtained using volunteers, and/or give sponsors more time if they are using volunteers to gather signatures, rather than paid workers.

- Lower the number of signatures required to qualify a referendum for the ballot from five percent to three percent of the votes cast for the governor in the last election, and/or increase the number of days to qualify for the ballot from 90 to 120.

- Establish a system of public registration and training for signature gatherers.


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

- Establish a mandatory pre-circulation review where initiative sponsors are 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 opinion resulting from this pre-circulation review should be made public.

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

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

- Initiatives (statutory) should include a provision providing for an automatic review/re-vote or expiration of the measure, as appropriate.

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).

- Ballot pamphlet analyses of initiative and referendum measures should be written for the reading level of the average citizen.

- The ballot label and ballot pamphlet should clearly indicate the effect of a yes vote and a no vote.

Voting and 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 approval threshold to approve an initiative constitutional amendment should be higher than a simple majority vote

- 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.

- Voting on constitutional amendments should only occur at general elections.

Indirect Initiative

- Establish an indirect initiative process option, where a proposed initiative is referred to the legislature after proponents have submitted the required number of signatures; where the Legislature is required to hold a public hearing on the measure and then has the option to enact, reject or amend the measure; and if not enacted by the legislature, proponents may still elect to appear on the ballot.

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.


- There should be provision for free time for radio and TV information programs for initiative campaigns.

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

The legislature should conduct public hearings on initiative and referendum proposals around the state, with adequate public notice.

   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.
   d.  No public financing should be provided for initiative and referendum campaigns.


- Require that sponsors of an initiative or referendum and organizations that form a committee to support or oppose a measure be listed by name in the ballot pamphlet, in mailings, and in advertisements.

- Require that principal contributors to an initiative or referendum campaign be listed by name in the ballot pamphlet, in mailings, and in advertisements.

- Require that initiative and referendum committees use names that reflect their true economic or special interest.


If appropriate security safeguards are in place, Internet and/or other electronic technology should be allowed for signature gathering.

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.

Two elections for a constitutional change.

b. Constitutional challenges to voter-approved initiatives being reviewed in t

  This proposal would make for better drafted measures.

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.