Monday’s Mtg: Does California’s Ballot Initiative Process Need Fixing?

Did you know some changes have been made recently to our state’s ballot initiative process? Neither did I, so it’s a good thing Filip suggested we discuss our legendarily-disastrous initiative process on Monday.

How legendarily-bad? In the words of one journalist (link) “:

…past ballots have been riddled with arcane, single-interest skirmishes supported by expensive professional signature-gathering efforts and misleading advertising campaigns and mailers. Measures have been specifically designed to contradict competing initiatives – or to mask the purposes and consequences to confuse and mislead voters. Even well-intentioned efforts have been marred by drafting errors, poor legal reasoning and unintended policy outcomes from proposals not vetted or analyzed by experts.

I would add an even worse problem: The legislature is forbidden to modify the wording of a proposition before it is placed on the ballot or after it’s passed if it amended the state constitution. So, we end up with law that Fil hates, like Proposition 65, that requires those annoying signs in restaurants that warn people they are about to be served carcinogens; and ones I hate, like Prop. 98, that forces 40% of the state budget to be spent on K-12 education, no matter other needs.

The modest changes to the process made recently probably will not eliminate these gigantic problems or make the public better at self-legislating. But, as I’ll explain, they might help a little. Moreover, together with other government reforms passed recently (like having an independent citizens’ commission draw legislative districts and a “top two” primary system) they might just change California’s dysfunctional political system into something better. Maybe into something less unwieldy and better able to solve problems.

I’ll open our Labor Day meeting with a brief review of the ABCs of California’s direct democracy processes (initiative, referendum, and recall election), highlighting recent changes to the processes. Then, I will ask Fil for his thoughts and we can discuss the issues generally.


Next Week: Which Natural or Human-Made Catastrophes Should Most Worry Us?


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