Of the People, by the People, for the People: Direct Democracy in America

Topics: Referendum, Initiative, Direct democracy Pages: 9 (3455 words) Published: April 26, 2012
Louis Isabella
15 November 2011
POSC-276 Dr. Dunham
Of the people, By the People, For the People: Direct Democracy in America Since the first governments were created citizens have been trying to gain more influence on the laws and the politicians who make them. In representative democracies like the United States, sometimes relying on politicians to legislate in the interest of the people just isn’t enough. This is when the voters step in and use processes like initiative, referendum, and recall to make public policy themselves. These processes are especially popular in the state of California. The roots of these procedures in the United States go all the way back to colonial times, and were adopted in the forms we know today during the progressive era. Many people believe that voters are not competent or informed well enough to make rational decisions, which is not a factual claim. While these processes are very popular today, most of the founding fathers were very wary of democracy, especially direct democracy. The times are much different now, people are more informed, and democracy today is very different than it was when The Constitution was being written. Initiative, referendum, and recall are important institutions in American Democracy that allow the people to become involved in the legislative process, and although they conflict with a key belief of the founding fathers, the voters of today are informed enough to make competent decisions. Initiative is a process that enables voters to bypass legislators by putting proposed statutes on the ballot directly or indirectly. In Direct initiative, proposals that qualify go directly onto the ballot. In Indirect initiative, proposals that qualify are sent to the legislature, and if they are voted down will then go to the ballot. Referendum is a term that refers to a measure on the ballot. There are two types of referenda: legislative and popular. Legislative referenda deal with things like changes to the state constitution and tax changes, which some states require approval of by voters. Popular referenda allow citizens to approve or repeal a law passed by the legislature. The recall process allows voters to remove and replace a public official before their term is complete, and can be seen as impeachment by the people. For any of these procedures to end up on the ballot there are several criteria that need to be met, which vary from state to state. Generally the process involves filing a petition with the state, review of the petition for conformity with the state’s requirements, preparation of the title and summary, circulation of a petition to obtain a set number of signatures, and verification of the signatures. If these requirements are met then the measure will appear on the ballot to be approved or rejected by the voters. Initiative, referendum and recall have a long history in the United States. The roots of these procedures can be traced back to colonial times. Citizens of colonial New England proposed, discussed, and voted on local ordinances at open town hall meetings. Thomas Jefferson was more receptive of democracy than his contemporaries, and advocated several direct democracy devices. This process can be seen as the predecessor to the current referendum process. In 1778, Massachusetts became the first state to hold a legislative referendum for the approval of its constitution. This procedure quickly caught on among other states, and by the end of the 19th century almost all states had decided to have their constitutions approved by referendums. In the 1800s Congress made referendum mandatory for constitutional changes by states entering the union after 1857. The progressive era of the late 1800s and early 1900s brought about the processes of direct democracy as they are used today. People began to realize that they had no means to control legislators that were out of touch with the needs of the people and governing in their own interests. This...
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