Posted 3 years ago on March 16, 2012, 11:39 p.m. EST by francismjenkins
This content is user submitted and not an official statement
From the site: History of Switzerland (see link below):
Basic Facts & Features of Switzerland's Direct Democracy
The Swiss constitution defines in some detail all areas subject to federal legislation. Anything not explicitly mentioned is left to the legislation of the cantons (federal states).
Therefore it is necessary to update the constitution from time to time to take account of changes in society and technology that demand for standardised solutions throughout the country.
The Swiss constitution may be changed only if an overall majority of the electorate agrees in a referendum and if the electorate of a majority of the cantons agrees, too. The latter is sometimes just a little more difficult because it means that the rather conservative electorate of smaller rural cantons must be convinced as well.
Nevertheless, minor changes to the Swiss constitution are quite frequent without affecting the basic ideas nor the stability of Switzerland's Political System. To the contrary: Direct Democracy is the key to Switzerland's famous political stability.
All federal laws are subject to a three to four step process:
1) A first draft is prepared by experts in the federal administration.
2) This draft is presented to a large number of people in a formalized kind of opinion poll: Cantonal governments, political parties as well as many non-governmental organisations and associations of the civil society may comment on the draft and propose changes.
3) The result is presented to dedicated parliamentary commissions of both chambers of the federal parliament, discussed in detail behind closed doors and finally debated in public sessions of both chambers of parliament. Members of parliament do take into account the results of step 2, because if the fail to do so, step 4 will be inevitable.
4) The electorate has a veto-right on laws: If anybody is able to find 50,000 citizens signing a form demanding for a referendum within 3 months, a referendum must be held. Laws do only need to find a majority of the national electorate to pass a referendum, not a majority of cantons. Referendums on more than a dozen laws per year are not unusual in Switzerland.
Frequent referendums on minor changes to the federal or cantonal constitutions, new or changed laws, budgets etc, - referendums on constitutional changes are mandatory - referendums on laws are "facultative" (only if 50,000 citizens, i.e. roughly 1.2% of the electorate, demand for it)
Corresponding rules apply for referendums on cantonal and communal level. While referendums concerning budgets are not possible on federal level they are common on communal level. It depends on the 26 cantonal constitutions whether they are mandatory, facultative or possible at all. The number of citizens that may demand for a cantonal or communal referendum depends on the size of the corresponding electorate, as a rule of thumb, about 1% are usual.
Popular Initiative: 100,000 citizens (roughly 2.5% of the electorate) may demand for a change of the constitution by signing a form. The federal parliament is obliged to discuss the initiative, it may decide to recommend or to reject the initiative or it may propose an alternative. Whatever they choose to do, all citizens will finally decide in a referendum whether to accept the initiative, the alternate proposal or stay without change.
While recalls are not provided for at the federal level in Switzerland, six cantons allow them:
Not quite as robust as what we might think the ideal would be, but very robust nonetheless, and Switzerland is a contemporary example of a high functioning direct democracy.
Implementing a system like this in the United States would be difficult, but not impossible:
There is no provision for the holding of referendums at the federal level in the United States; indeed, there is no national electorate of any kind. The United States constitution does not provide for referendums at the federal level. A constitutional amendment would be required to allow it. However, the constitutions of 24 states (principally in the West) and many local and city governments provide for referendums and citizen's initiatives.
However, we don't need Congress to amend the Constitution:
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
Getting two thirds, much less three fourths, of our states to agree on anything may seem like an insurmountable task, but action is already being taken at the state and local level, and slowly building momentum for something like this would I think greatly enhance and compliment the OWS message.