Blockbuster Democracy

Halfway Home

Bruno Kaufmann -- the Swiss-Swede journalist, president of the Initiative & Referendum Institute of Europe and the driving force behind the annual global forums on direct democracy -- has reached Manila, the halfway point in his family's six-month world tour of direct democratic spots. You can follow their travels here. And you can meet him Aug. 1-4, 2010, at the third annual global forum in San Francisco.

Colbert On Referendum 71

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Don't Ask Don't Tell


Direct Democracy Petitions Aren't Anonymous

Those who want to keep the names of those who sign initiative and referendum petitions anonymous are trotting out a new argument. Petitioning the government is protected under the first amendment and the courts have held that the ability to petition the government anonymously is subject to constitutional protection.

That's true. But protection of anonymous dissent has nothing to do with the case of referendum and initiative petitions. Such petitions are not in any way, shape or form an anonymous petition of the government. Under the law, people are signing their names and listing their addresses -- with the full intention of having the measure submitted to the government. 

What those who object to relase of names (specifically in the case of those who signed the Referendum 71 petition) are demanding is not a protection of anonymity but a special privilege for the government. Their argument boils down to this: It's OK for the government to see who is signing the petitions but it's not OK for the public to see that.

Constitutional Convention Initiatives Coming Wednesday

Repair California has just announced that it will file the two constitutional convention initiatives -- one to change the constitution to permit voters to call a convention directly, the other to call the convention -- next Wednesday in Sacramento.

Is Signing a Referendum Petition Like Voting?

The U.S. Supreme Court seems to think so. In voting 8-1 to block an appeals court ruling that would have released publicly the names of signers on petitions to qualify Washington's state Referendum 71 for the ballot, the court appears to be taking the position that the act of signing a direct democracy petition is akin to voting in an election. And in this country, voting is private.

Although the court hasn't made a final decision in the case, their decision to block the release of the signatures effectively gives a victory to supporters of the referendum. The signatures, if they are ever released, won't be released until after the November election -- when the impact will be something close to zero. The referendum in question, 71, is a ballot measure to reverse a new state law granting broader rights to domestic partners. Those supporters -- who are opponents of gay rights and the law -- say they want to protect those signers from criticsim and harassment. On the other side, gay rights supporters -- who are referendum opponents -- want to see the signatures precisely so they can challenge those who would deny rights to gay couples. Washington state officials are siding with the referendum opponents in this matter, on the argument that petitions to the government are, by their very nature, public documents.

Why Posting Has Been a Little Slower Here

You may have noticed that posting has fallen off a bit here. There's a reason. My New America colleague Mark Paul and I are working on a book for the University of California Press, California 2.0, that looks at how the state government got into its current fix -- and offers some ideas for how to clean things up. The deadline for turning in the manuscript is Thanksgiving, and I've got two more chapters to write. Look for posting to pick up after turkey day.

Local in California

Ballotpedia has a comprehensive wrap-up of the more than 100 measures on local ballots in California next month.

Justice Kennedy Blocks Release of Names on Washington State Petition

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has temporarily barred Washington state officials from releasing the names of signers to a petition, Referendum 71, which seeks to reverse a law granting greater rights to domestic partners.

Kennedy's action puts the case on hold while he considers a request to hear from the referendum's supporters. Gay rights groups, which oppose the referendum, want to put the names on the Internet as a way of shaming those who signed. The referendum's supporters say this would lead to intimidation and harassment.

More details here via the Seattle Times.


Four Ways to Fix California's Direct Democracy

Here's my piece from today's LA Times outlining four ways to fix California's direct democracy.

In short, I see the problem with the current system this way: the two sides of the state's legislative branch -- state lawmakers and voters -- are divided against each other, and spend much of their time trying to circumvent each other. Direct democracy works best when voters and their elected officials engage each other directly (as in the Swiss system, which uses far more referenda -- and far fewer initiatives -- than California). So the best (and most politically feasible) fix is to give both legislators and voters more power, but in ways that allow them to check and balance each other.

Federal Appeals Court Reverses Ruling Keeping Referendum Petitions Private

A federal appeals court has reversed a district judge's ruling barring the release of referendum petitions in Washington state. The appeal court didn't release a full opinon and it's not clear when the petitions in question will be released.

The lower court judge had barred the release of petitions collected to qualify Referendum 71, which seeks repeal of a Washington state law granting more rights to domestic partners. In so doing, he seemed to argue that the act of signing a petition to reverse a law was private. Gay rights groups have sought the names of those who signed the petitions, as part of an effort to put public pressure on those who signed.

My earlier description of the previous ruling is here.