Direct Democracy

It’s used so rarely it's almost a secret

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checkmate-bannerYou are not powerless, you can effect change.
But not by sitting on the couch hoping some politician will do it for you.
Put a different way: YOU have to make change.
But how? By writing your congressman?
Give me a break.
Knocking doors for a candidate you believe in? Okay, that’s a great thing to do.
But take Congress. Puh-lease. Even if you find a solid congressional candidate, and your candidate wins, and even if she or he stays true to principles, you’ll have helped change 1/435th of that lawmaking body.

And those are mighty big ifs.

My point isn’t to belittle engaging your elected representatives or participating in other political action. I’m all for it. I’ve been there. We need much more participation.

But . . . on so many crucial issues, we need to actually change public policy, to change the law itself.

Life is short. And the shortest distance between here and there is a straight line. In politics, the very straightest line and shortest path is a ballot initiative.

It’s used so rarely it’s almost a secret. Most cities and states have some form of initiative and/or referendum. The ballot initiative process allows citizens to gather voter signatures on a petition to place a new law onto the ballot for all voters to decide. Through the referendum process, citizens can likewise refer a law passed by the city council or state legislature onto the ballot.

Don’t like your state legislature? You be the legislator.

Don’t like some policy? Write your own.

Best of all, a ballot initiative is written in black-and-white and, unlike a politician, cannot change its mind after the election.

Note that I’m not saying it’s simple or easy. You’ve got to connect with a lot of other people to put an initiative on the ballot. You also then have to win a majority (and in some cases a supermajority) of people at the ballot box.

Here are the basics:

First, figure out whether your state or city has the initiative. Even if it does, the rules may still be a maze requiring legal or expert assistance.

Second, write the new law. You likely need the help of an attorney.

SamePageNation, in partnership with my organization Liberty Initiative Fund, spends a great deal of time and effort (gladly) helping people find legal advice and counsel.

Next comes the hard part, a petition drive to collect hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of registered voter signatures on your petition. Each voter signs the petition for one overriding reason: You ask them.

Collecting enough signatures requires hard work, you and other volunteers engaging the public at fairs and ball games and strip malls or going door-to-door in their neighborhoods and asking for people to sign. On the plus side, petitioning allows you to launch the campaign by speaking directly to so many voters.

Increasingly, campaigns are hiring professional signature gathers, who are usually paid a dollar or more for each person they get to sign the petition. Whether volunteers or paid petition circulators collect the signatures, most ballot measures fail because they do not gather enough signatures.

The petition process separates the talkers from the doers.

Once enough signatures are turned in and verified as registered voters by election officials, the issue is placed on the ballot.

And the campaign begins.

What sorts of issues are “taking the initiative”?

  • Term limits comes to mind after working on nearly a hundred statewide ballot measures for U.S. Term Limits back in the 1990s. It’s an issue that stands not a snowball’s chance in hot legislative halls, and yet it has swept much of the country through voter initiatives.
  • People know New London, Connecticut, as a symbol of eminent domain abuse. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the city could seize their homes. Then, the development fell through. Today, that New London neighborhood is a vacant lot. A tragedy.
  • But the abuse of eminent domain in Lakewood, Ohio, at about the same time, was blocked. That’s because a citizen initiative in Lakewood allowed city voters to put the kibosh on that development project.
  • Last month, the Missouri Legislature adjourned without passing much of any criminal justice reform after all the trouble in Ferguson. But last week, citizens in Ferguson filed a new initiative to mandate police body cameras. Direct democracy!

Very different issues, but citizens made a difference in each.

YOU can make change; take the initiative! We will help you!

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  1. Mike Hellyar Sr Reply

    I have been involved in ballot initiaitives including getting myself on a ballot. One obstacle not mentioned here is the ability of legislators to change the rules, like the number of signatures or what constitutes a good signature or even where you can acquire a signature such as at public spaces. Often in local communities, but not always, as in neighboring Lakewood,Ohio, the same time spent at city council meetings and lobbying members of council can be quite effective. The knowledge gained from direct action in front of local government is cumulative and the more you know the more effective you can be. I used a robo call myself to expose and oppose an outrageous special tax increase for EMT. Such EMT tax increases had never been turned down. It was turned down. The City went nuts, even made a complaint to the state election commission which summarily rejected the complaint.

  2. Aadesh Reply

    Ray LaHood has a lot of nerve saying that he is ptunitg Americans back to work!! Americans approx 10% unemployment nation wide. 2010 Census 10% of adult population from other countries and here on work visas. Anyone see the problem? Check the demagraphics/hiring stats. More than 70% of the technical contractors at the FAA Tech Center are here on work visas. Approx 40% of permanent employees started with work visas then got citizenship so they could have permanent federal jobs and benefits. Apparently even the Fed Gov no longer of the people, by the people OR for the people refuses to hire Americans.