Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Democracy?

The abundance of initiatives that will appear on the ballot in November has some observers concerned about confusion and disorganization.

Jul 14, 2016

The abundance of initiatives that will appear on California’s ballot this year , including a proposal that would allow for the legal statewide use of cannabis, has some observers concerned about confusion and disorganization when voters go to the polls in November.

What is a ballot initiative?

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Twenty-six states in the U.S., as well as the District of Columbia, allow for citizens of the state to draft proposals that may be voted on by the state during the next election cycle. Some states also allow for their constitutions to be amended in a similar way.

Different states have different requirements regarding how a measure may be placed on the ballot. In California, for example, those looking to place a statute on the ballot must gather 365,880 signatures.

Other populous states, such as Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania, do not allow for citizen-initiated initiatives and referendums. As such, those states only allow for alterations to state law and the state constitution through actions taken by their state legislatures.

Why is California unique?

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There are several ways in which California differs from the rest of the states in the union. The first is the sheer size of the state: With over 39 million people, California is the most populous state in the country. It is also the third-largest, at over 163,000 square miles. That’s a lot of ground to cover.

With so many people in so many locations, there naturally arises a plethora of different interests. And therein lies the state’s second unique quality: There are multitudes of different issues on the minds of Californians, many of which are ones that they would like to see addressed on the November ballot.

What issues will appear on the ballot this year?

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The scope of the issues covered on this year’s November ballot is vast. There are currently 17 initiatives that will appear — with others pending — dealing with issues that include hospital fees, bilingual education, legalized cannabis, plastic bags, condom use in pornographic films, the death penalty, and firearm restrictions, among others.

Because there are so many issues on the ballot, observers are concerned that voters will go to the polls only to be confronted by a fog of issues, and the impossibility of the average voter being well-versed in all of them.

According to Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, such a preponderance of choices can lead to voters coming away from the experience feeling negative about the process.

People don’t like to do things they feel they are not good at, and it can be challenging for California voters to feel confident about their choices.

While a full-scale change of California’s system of governance may be a bridge too far, the wide scope of issues facing Californians on this year’s ballot should at least lead many in the state to reassess the ways in which public policy issues are addressed in the Golden State.

Do you think California should legalize recreational cannabis this year on the November ballot? Tell us why on social media or in the comments below.

Jul 14, 2016