California ought to revoke public initiatives

March 16, 2010 — by Karthik Annaamalai

With just 8 percent of the state’s signatures, anyone can get his or her own proposition on the California ballot. These propositions, called initiatives, mean any citizen can submit their own “law” because of California’s direct democracy.

This presents a problem because, although 56 percent of Californians like the initiative method, a number estimated by The Economist, people are often unaware of the economic impact. For example, in the past ballots, California passed a proposition that would create a new high speed railroad from San Francisco to L.A. Although the benefits of the train are straightforward, many did not consider the cost of building the railway, especially in a time when California’s budget deficit has been one of the largest in its history.

Legislators are forced to fund bills passed by people, which only places a greater burden on the budget. These initiatives crowd the ballot, especially since the number of propositions that have been qualified for the ballot has been getting larger; over 70 initiatives have passed the 8 percent minimum signatures in the past two months.

The initiative system also creates an unwanted source of illegality. Weeks before the propositions are sent to the voters, “bounty hunters,” paid for by the sponsors of the initiatives, roam the streets paying people to sign the propositions.

Moreover, Californians do not always make the morally correct decisions. In the previous 2008 ballot regarding the propositions about gay rights and chicken coops, Ronald George, the chieft justice of the California’s Supreme Court, said, “Chickens gained valuable rights in California on the same day that gay men and lesbians lost them.”

In order to combat this flawed approach, the government can take two approaches: a radical one or a conservative one. California could rescind the initiative process as a whole, which would outrage many Californians but would solve many of the state’s problems. On the other hand, the state can raise the standard for an initiative to qualify for the ballot. This would decrease the total number of initiatives as well as serve as a strain, allowing only the most approved propositions to be voted on.

Both methods would effectively solve the dilemma of California’s initiative process, the latter pleasing the state’s citizens by giving them a chance to voice their opinions. The fact remains, however, that the system is flawed and that something needs to be done in order to combat this problem. Does anyone want to start an initiative to fix it?