Archives for category: Direct Democracy

Crack reporter, Nicholas Confessore, in his story, “Anti-Gay Marriage Group Recommends Creating Tension Between Gays and Blacks,” recounts a classic tale of an interest group trying to use a ballot initiative to drive a wedge into a party’s base.

More than a decade ago, I wrote about the GOP using this tactic in California and Colorado. No time to summarize it here, but here’s a link to my 2001 article, Initiative to Party, with Caroline Tolbert on the topic, and it’s also retold in my book, Educated by Initiative.

 

Well, it looks like the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s hard-hitting TV issue ads that ran in Colorado in 2008, calling out Ward Connerly for his deceptive effort to ban Affirmative Action, were spot-on.

New York Times has the latest in the alleged con-job he’s been running.

Here’s an excerpt from my 2005 Election Law Journal article with Elizabeth Garrett on “Veiled Political Actors” in ballot issue campaigns, which highlighted some of Connerly’s deceptive practices, which turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg :

Using 501(c)s to shield the identities of entities active in direct democracy is likely only to increase. The American Civil Rights Coalition
(ACRC) was established by Ward Connerly in 1997 following the passage of California’s Proposition 209, the successful 1996 anti-affirmative action initiative. The ACRC was the sponsor of Proposition 54, a racial privacy initiative that attempted to prohibit state and local governments from collecting data on or using classifications based on race, ethnicity, color, or national origin. According to campaign finance filings with the FPPC, ACRC contributed 94 percent ($1,570,400 of $1,671,958) of the total raised in 2001–02 by the ballot issue committee, Yes on Proposition 54/Racial Privacy Initiative Sponsored by American Civil Rights Coalition.112 The contributions made to ACRC were subsequently transferred to its sister ballot committee to help finance the paid signature-gathering effort to qualify the measure.113

Florida State Senator Paula Dockery, a Republican from Lakeland, and Representative Richard Steinberg, a Democrat from Miami Beach, have filed companion bills that would permit citizens to “veto” certain bills if signed into law by the governor.  Budgetary and emergency legislation would be exempt from citizen vetoes under Dockery’s Senate Joint Resolution 1490 and Steinberg’s House Joint Resolution 1231. If passed by the state legislature, the legislation would be put forth to the voters in 2012 in the form of a constitutional amendment, which would need 60% + 1 approval for passage.

The popular referendum–which dates to the early 1900s in several states–allows a person or group to file a petition to have a public vote on a bill that the legislature has already approved. Every one of the two dozen states that permit the initiative process also allows citizens to propose popular referendums, except for Florida, Illinois, and Mississippi. The popular referendum, which has been used with more frequency in the past decade, is effectively a public veto of a law. Proponents may qualify popular referendums for the ballot by collecting a certain percentage of signatures in a set amount of time following the passage of the legislation in question. It’s the quintessential “gun behind the door” that allows citizens to keep their elected officials in check.

Despite the popular support for direct democracy in Florida, the political environment at this moment is not very conducive for the state legislature to devolve power to citizens.

I have a 2008 article, “Delegating Direct Democracy: Interparty Legislative Competition and the Adoption of the Initiative in the American States,” that was published in the American Political Science Review with my graduate student, Dustin Fridkin, that investigates the widespread adoption of direct democracy–specifically the citizen initiative–during the early 20th century.  It is available here for download.

From the abstract:

Between 1898 and 1918, voters in 20 American states adopted constitutional amendments granting citizens the power of the initiative. The embrace of direct democracy by voters invites inquiry into why some state legislatures opted to delegate to citizens the power of the initiative, while others did not. Drawing on an original data set, this article uses Event History Analysis hazard models to explain the puzzle of why legislatures might devolve institutional power to citizens. Our longitudinal, macrolevel analysis of socioeconomic and political forces reveals that political considerations—interparty legislative competition, party organizational strength, and third parties—are the most powerful predictors of a legislature’s decision to refer the initiative to the ballot. Although several of our findings comport with the conventional wisdom explaining the adoption of the initiative during the Progressive Era, others are surprising, offering us new theoretical insights into why and when legislative bodies might be willing to divest themselves of their institutional power.

Absent interparty legislative competition in Florida (Republicans are dominant) and the utter lack of third parties in the state, I don’t think the time is ripe for the legislature to place a popular referendum on the ballot. This is unfortunate, as the citizen’s veto–as the popular referendum is often called–has proven to be an effective tool for citizens to use to keep their unrepresentative legislature in check and more responsive to the people.

Doubtful.

But State Senator, Republican Paula Dockery, along with Democratic Representative Richard Steinberg, have filed companion bills that would permit citizens to “veto” certain bills if signed into law by the governor.  Budgetary and emergency legislation would be exempt from citizen vetoes under Dockery’s Senate Joint Resolution 1490 and Steinberg’s House Joint Resolution 1231.

“Constituents reach out to me on a daily basis expressing frustration with the maze that is the legislative process,” Dockery said in a statement released today. “In this political climate, the bulk of the power is held by wealthy special interests. This joint resolution would place that power where it rightly belongs: into the hands of the citizens.”

“Like many states, Florida should afford its citizens the opportunity to reject legislation that they deem detrimental to the state,” Steinberg added.  “In a democracy, it is the citizens who should have the final word on whether to accept or reject a law.”

The popular referendum–which dates to the early 1900s in several states–allows a person or group to file a petition to have a public vote on a bill that the legislature has already approved. Every one of the two dozen states that permit the initiative process also allows citizens to propose popular referendums, except for Florida, Illinois, and Mississippi. The popular referendum, which has been used with more frequency in the past decade, is effectively a public veto of a law. Proponents may qualify popular referendums for the ballot by collecting a certain percentage of signatures in a set amount of time following the passage of the legislation in question. It’s the quintessential “gun behind the door” that allows citizens to keep their elected officials in check.

Most recently, Ohio voters in the November 2011 election used the popular referendum to overturn Senate Bill 5, which repealed the anti-public sector legislation signed into law by Governor Kasich.

The Dockery legislation is available here.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has certified the first initiative to qualify for the November 6, 2012, ballot.  If it is approved by voters, the initiative–known by proponents as “Paycheck Protection” and opponents as “Paycheck Deception”–would restrict political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes.

It’s time to set the record straight on the origins of this deceptive ballot measure, which traces its history to anti-tax crusader, and Republican insider, Grover Norquist.

In the late 1990s, Norquist and his DC-based Americans for Tax Reform organization backed several conservative initiatives on statewide ballots, including so-called paycheck “protection” measures. The major source of his funding for his efforts, it was later revealed,was the Republican National Party.  In 1993, Norquist had authored a mock policy memo (fictitiously dated “November 9, 1996”) addressed to “Republican Congressional Leaders.”  His fictitious memo detailed the GOP’s hard won “success” in the 1996 elections.  Noting the electoral power of initiatives, Norquist wrote, “I believe the wave of initiative elections in 1992 and 1994 paved the way for Republican electoral victories this year [1996].”  He highlighted how initiatives limiting legislative terms, cutting taxes and government spending, as well as anti-crime, victims rights, and parental rights ballot measures, brought fiscal and “social conservative Republican voters to the polls.”

Republican leaders apparently were convinced by Norquist’s electoral prediction.  In October 1996, the Republican National Committee (RNC) quietly contributed $4.6 million in soft money to ATR to promote federal candidates by broadcasting issue ads. While Norquist’s nonprofit did not have to disclose its subsequent expenditures, a congressional investigation (Minority Report) into campaign finance abuses in the 1990s found that ATR acted “as an alter ego of the Republican National Committee [RNC] in promoting the Republican agenda and Republican candidates, while shielding itself and its contributors from the accountability required of campaign organizations.”

Norquist’s ATR subsequently funneled a substantial amount of the RNC money to issue groups in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada that were sponsoring paycheck protection ballot measures.

For example, in 1998, ATR was a major contributor to the sponsors of Oregon’s Measure 26, a paycheck “protection” initiative that qualified for Oregon’s November, 1998 ballot.  ATR also helped to finance paycheck “deception” measures in Nevada and Colorado, but they were stymied by the courts in Nevada and stalled by a union-led counterproposition in Colorado.

Earlier in 1998, Norquist’s ATR successfully spearheaded the financing of a California ballot measure designed specifically to weaken organized labor. During the crucial petition gathering phase of the campaign, ATR transferred $441,000 to the Campaign Reform Initiative in California, one of four issue committees advocating Proposition 226, a paycheck “protection” measure.  In the end, California voters defeated the measure at the polls, in large part because labor unions spent over $23 million fighting the June 1998 primary initiative.

Rather than paycheck protection, the history of these ballot measures is steeped in deception.

For more background on paycheck “protection”/”deception” ballot measures, see Daniel A. Smith. 2004. “Peeling Away the Populist Rhetoric: Toward a Taxonomy of Anti-Tax Ballot Initiatives,” Public Budgeting and Finance 24 (4): 88-110, and Elizabeth Garrett and Daniel A. Smith. 2005. “Veiled Political Actors and Campaign Disclosure Laws in Direct Democracy,” Election Law Journal 4 (4) 295-328.

Daily Show correspondent John Oliver investigates Amazon.com’s effort to use a ballot measure to overturn a a state law requiring online retailers to pay sales tax in the state.

California’s foul-mouthed Democratic Party chairman, John Burton, steals the show.

That’s what Dan Schnur, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, told Adam Nagourney in a front page article, “In California, Asking Voters to Raise Taxes,” in today’s New York Times.

According to Schnur, “The November 2012 ballot is going to be the political equivalent of bumper car. What we have seen historically is that voters who are overwhelmed or overloaded with things tend to vote ‘no’ on everything.”

While it sounds convincing, Mr. Schnur’s statement is not really backed up by the data.

In California, between 1911 and 2010, voters considered 1180 statewide initiatives, popular referendums, and legislative referendums, passing 666 of them, for a passage rate of 56%.  When it comes to statewide initiatives, popular referendums, and legislative referendums on the ballot in general elections, Californians have approved 491 of the 893 measures.

Here’s a graph of the number of general election statewide ballot measures by year in California, and the accompanying passage rates, over time:

It’s pretty hard to discern a clear relationship over the years that suggests that an increased number of measures on the statewide ballot leads to a decreased percentage of measures adopted by the voters.

Here’s another look at the same data, using a scatterplot:

Again, there’s not a very clear pattern over the last century when looking at the number of statewide ballot measures in a general election and the overall passage rate of those measures. As the linear regression equation indicates, the relationship is quite weak. (And no, that’s not a data entry error: there really were 47 measures on California’s statewide ballot in 1914).

So, what are we to make of Mr. Schnur’s comment, in light of the data?

More measures on the ballot does not lead necessarily to lower overall support for ballot propositions. California voters don’t get “overloaded.”

California voters are not stupid, and are certainly not “dumber than chimps” as Skip Lupia rightly notes. They are able to pick and choose down the ballot, even very long ones, making binary choices that best match their own preferences. It is essential, of course, that voters have informational cues, or heuristics (such as campaign spending on a ballot measure that indicates support or opposition by vested interests) which can help voters with their civic duty when serving as lawmakers for a day.

So bring on the ballot measures in 2012, even those raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for educational and energy programs. Californians are up for the challenge.

After the huge defeat of the so-called “personhood” ballot initiative in Mississippi yesterday, combined with the defeats in Colorado the past midterm and general elections, there’s good reason for Democrats to be giddy about the possibility that  Personhood USA and its state affiliates might actually qualify similar extreme ballot measures in more states for the 2012 general election.

The Mississippi ballot measure would have given legal “personhood” status to undeveloped zygotes. There’s goes our 7 billion population count…

But seriously, Democrats might think about encouraging Personhood USA co-founder Keith Mason to continue to blame the defeat of Proposition 26 Planned Parenthood and other progressive pro-choice organizations and elected officials. As Mason explained to the Huffington Post:

It’s not because the people are not pro-life. It’s because Planned Parenthood put a lot of misconceptions and lies in front of folks and created a lot of confusion.

Bryan Longworth, director of Personhood Florida, helpfully elaborated:

We’re not discouraged. It shows that the arguments that are being raised by Planned Parenthood, the scare tactics, and the second-guessing of Governor Haley Barbour did play a role.

Taking a page out of the RNC’s playbook when they helped to finance Proposition 209 in California in 1996, perhaps Democrats should actually encourage the qualification of personhood initiatives in Florida, Ohio, and other battleground states that permit direct democracy. Democratic candidates will have a clear wedge issue on which to run against Republicans. Wedge issues on the ballot have worked for Republicans in California and Colorado, as I write about in this 2001 article with Caroline Tolbert, “The Initiative to Party.”  Ballot measures can also have “educative effects” that help Democratic candidates, most notably, the minimum wage issues on the ballot in six states in 2006, as we analyze in our 2010 article, “Direct Democracy, Public Opinion, and Candidate Choice.”

As a scholar of direct democracy, the more initiatives on the ballot, the more to study.

Get Petitioning, Personhood USA!

 

This Fox News report by Ed Henry (“State Ballot Initiatives Pose Key Tests for Obama Re-election Drive“) is one of the best I’ve read on the complex nexus of ballot measures and candidate races in off-year elections. I blogged recently about some of these off-year ballot measures here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the impact that ballot measures can have on candidate races, as well as how candidate races can sometimes affect ballot measures, and you aren’t able to enroll in my graduate seminar on the Politics of Direct Democracy for Spring 2012, feel free to check out some of these scholarly articles I’ve coauthored:

Stephanie Slade and Daniel A. Smith. 2011. “Obama to Blame? African American Surge Voters and the Ban on Same-Sex Marriage in Florida,” The Forum 9(2), Article 6.

Daniel A. Smith and Caroline J. Tolbert. 2010. “Direct Democracy, Public Opinion, and Candidate Choice,” Public Opinion Quarterly 74: 85-108.

Todd Donovan, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Daniel A. Smith. 2009. “Political Engagement, Mobilization, and Direct Democracy,” Public Opinion Quarterly 73: 98-118.

Todd Donovan, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Daniel A. Smith. 2008. “Priming Presidential Votes by Direct Democracy,” Journal of Politics 70: 1217-31.

Daniel A. Smith, Matthew DeSantis, and Jason Kassel. 2006. “Same-Sex Marriage Ballot Measures and the 2004 Presidential Election,” State and Local Government Review 38 (2): 78-91.

in Equatorial Guinea.

Now this is what “threats, harassment, and reprisals” look like when government regulations “seriously chill speech and association,” as attorney Jim Bopp and the plaintiff’s in Doe v. Reed failed to show when challenging the state of Washington’s public release of signed petitions for Referendum 71,  an effort by social conservatives to repeal the legislature’s bill granting same-sex civil union protections.

In fact, if the politically-motivated arrest of a supporter of Referendum 71 in Washington for suspicion of murder had occurred, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle likely would have supported an as-applied challenge to Washington’s Public Records Act.  But alas, as Settle noted, “… if a group could succeed in an as-applied challenge to the PRA by simply providing a few isolated incidents of profane or indecent statements, gestures, or other examples of uncomfortable conversations that are not necessarily even related or directly connected to the issue at hand, disclosure would become the exception instead of the rule.”

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote pointedly in his concurring opinion in Doe v. Reed why public disclosure is necessary, and how it can embolden citizens in the U.S.

There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self governance…Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.

Rather than a threat to individual liberty, public disclosure is a bulwark against government oppression, as we’re seeing in Equatorial Guinea.

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