Archives for category: Referendum

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.

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The high court has rejected (once again) efforts by gay marriage foes to block the release of signatures gathered on Referendum 71 petitions.  As I argued in my amicus brief in support of the State of Washington’s long-standing Public Disclosure Act, signatures on petitions to qualify ballot measures should be in the public domain.

The Court’s order is here. Not surprising, Justice Alito favored a stay, again putting him at odds with the other justices.

A DVD of the 138,000 individuals who signed Referendum 71 costs $15 (plus shipping costs). It can be purchased through the State Archives, which can be reached at (360) 586-1492 or research@sos.wa.gov.

I’ve coauthored this paper, forthcoming in Political Behavior, which uses signatures on ballot petitions in Arkansas and Florida to measure the effect of signing a ballot petition on voter turnout. I have another coauthored paper in the works that examines who actually signs ballot petitions.

 

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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