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Forum Post: Direct Democracy: Modern Switzerland

Posted 6 years ago on March 16, 2012, 11:39 p.m. EST by francismjenkins (3713)
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:[2]


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:

Article. V.

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.



Read the Rules
[-] 1 points by bensdad (8977) 6 years ago

so you want a constitutional convention?
so does ALEC
so does the koch brothers
If you do the math carefully, you would find that a new constitution could be proposed by state delegations representing less than 16.000.000 citizens.

Assuming 14 delegations of two each and $10,000,000 per delegate, a new constitution could be written for less than a quarter of what the kochs make in one year.

Maybe youve heard of this guy:
Warren Burger, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,
vigorously opposed convening a constitutional convention wrote on June 22, 1988: “I have also repeatedly given my opinion that there is no effective way to limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the Convention to one amendment or to one issue, but there is no way to assure that the Convention would obey. After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don't like its agenda. The 1787 Convention ignored the limit stated by the Confederation Congress "for the sole and express purpose”. Whatever gain might be hoped for from a new Constitutional Convention could not be worth the risk involved. A new Convention could plunge our Nation into constitutional confusion and confrontation at every turn, with no assurance that focus would be on the subject needing attention. I have discouraged the idea of a constitutional convention”

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 6 years ago

put it up for popular approval

it's not that hard these days

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 6 years ago

And so Justice Burger is your favorite guru, okay, but why should I care? Since the only Constitutional Convention in our history was the one that resulted in our Constitution itself, Burger has absolutely nothing to go on besides his imagination. Even the greatest lawyers don't have crystal balls (unless I missed that class in law school)?

[-] 1 points by bensdad (8977) 6 years ago

Forget imagination- try reality-
The 1787 Philadelphia Convention was EXPLICITLY formed to make amendments to the Articles of Confederation and required a unanimous vote of the states to do anything. In stead, they broke their own laws and they completely rewrote the document as The Constitution and changed the ratification number to 3/4. What evidence do you have to prove that a new convention could not be a "runaway" like the first?

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 6 years ago

Although the Convention was intended to revise the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, was to create a new government rather than fix the existing one. The delegates elected George Washington to preside over the convention.


The intentions of its proponents wasn't exactly hidden. Moreover, the language in Article V is fairly specific. On application of 3/4 of the states, a convention may be called for the purpose of proposing amendments. Ultimately, 3/4 of the states would have to ratify any amendments (if the amendment process was through convention).

We're not a tiny nation of 13 states anymore, and the idea that the Koch brothers will buy off 40 states, is pretty far fetched (even though they might try). Moreover, assenting to a convention and ratification can be done in the same step. In other words, a state can limit its assent to a convention for the purposes of a specific amendment (and vote to ratify that amendment at the same time).

So it really doesn't require a "convention" at all (notwithstanding the historical import of the term).

[-] 1 points by bensdad (8977) 6 years ago

I dont understand- the 1787 was created under the AOC - 3/4 was illegally implemented.
You need to re-read article v - there is NO one step.
2/3 is required to propose
3/4 THEN required to ratify
There are only TWO methods- an amendment OR a convention
an amendment can be anything - and becomes part of the constitution after the 2/3 and then 3/4 a convention can propose ANYTHING 1) only two political parties are legal 2) no one can own a gun 3) evolution cannot be taught in school 4) Islam is ill egal

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 6 years ago

So you're saying we're trapped, we may never progress, we're forever restricted to the status quo, because we're not willing to trust ourselves enough to try? I'm sorry, but I just cannot agree with this idea.

[-] 1 points by bensdad (8977) 6 years ago

Amend the constitution - get rid of citizens united -
use the same process that HAS BEEN USED AND WORKED seventeen times

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 6 years ago

Yes ... that would be ideal. However, if we had 38 states who supported an amendment, in theory, it could be ratified without Congress (this assumes the worse case, a Congress who refuses to take action, but that's not exactly an unreasonable assumption given the circumstances). A state can simultaneously vote to ratify a proposed amendment, and vote to convene a Constitutional convention. If any other amendment proposals arise from the convention, it would still require ratification by 38 states.

[-] -2 points by GumbyDamnit (36) 6 years ago

Spoken like a true fascist nazi supporter of the corporate owned federal government, which you clearly are, Dee Dee.