Politics Use of Referndums and Propositions

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Evaluate how democratic in practice, initiatives and referendums are in making public policy. (30 marks)

Initiatives and referendums are forms of direct democracy used by a majority of states in the United States. Direct democracy is a system, by which political decisions are made by the voting people rather than elected representatives. Throughout the US the involvement of the electorate varies, in states such as Alaska and Colorado referendums and initiatives are fundamental tools in policy making. Initiatives are a process in which citizens must obtain a specific number of signatures required for that state, in order to place there proposed policies or constitutional amendments on the ballot for the voters to approve or reject. Similarly, referendums are also a process of direct democracy in which the electorate may vote to approve or reject existing policy or legislation. This essay will conclude that initiatives and referendums are not democratic in practice when making public policy due to the insignificance between majority and minority votes. In order to come to this conclusion I will look at the advantages and disadvantages of the process through use of relevant examples.

Initiatives are a ‘bottom up’ process as they directly initiated by the voters and not the elected representatives, this is considered to increase sovereignty of the people. Contrary to this, referendums are ‘top down’ as the representatives still have the final say. It is argued that initiatives and referendums involve the general public as they are part of the decision making process which encourages direct democracy. This can be challenged, as the voter turnout if often below 50%. Therefore, the referendum or initiative is not truly representative of the public opinion. This could indicate that the result is lacking legitimacy and thus, not democratic in practice. Furthermore, the low turnout demonstrates initiatives and referendums are more democratic in theory than in...
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