Posted 5 years ago on Dec. 24, 2011, 10:11 a.m. EST by FivePercentForNothing
This content is user submitted and not an official statement
Putting issues directly into the hands of the people sounds like the fairest way of determining whether or not to pass certain laws. What the majority of the people want is what is best for everyone right? The problem is that direct democracy can actually undermine, rather than promote, good governance and accountability. It can also lead to unfair decisions regarding minorities.
Direct Democracy is a fundamental part of Switzerland's political system. The recent decision of the Swiss electorate to ban minaret construction is a case in point. Critics have likened this to the ban on conspicuously religious synagogue buildings in Europe in the 1930s.
In the United States we already have direct democracy on many issues. Just about every very ballot has referendum questions. In California, the rights of minorities to marry, in the case of gays; to get basic services, in the case of immigrants have been removed by referendum. California is experiencing the worst financial crisis of all 50 states largely because of a 1978 referendum capping property taxes and requiring a super- majority to pass tax increases. Time after time referendum ballot questions lead to items that mandate an increase in government spending, however when voters often vote against higher taxes to pay for them.
Because of a poorly written referendum question, Colorado’s so-called “English for the Children” initiative in 2002 came close to eliminating ESL in the school systems an important program for children of immigrants.
Direct democracy lead the citizens of Arizona contaminate their own water. They did not trust their politicians who said that the water brought in across the desert needed to stored underground for a period to remove hardness and demanded a referendum for immediate injection into the main water supply. The water was so bad that people would not even bathe in it let alone drink it or cook with it. You could not wash your car with it, as it would eat the paint off your car. It was good, actually, only for watering your lawn, and very few people in Tucson have lawns.
Votes on initiatives are frequently very close. One possible reason is that the electorate doesn’t really know which way to vote. In other words, confusion over initiatives leads to a toss-up outcome that doesn’t reflect the voters’ true will.
Participation is another issue. I vote in every election. I always vote after dinner near the close of the polls. I always ask “what was the turn out” and the volunteer always tells me something like “we are up to 3,243 out of 15,250 so that’s about 21%. It is always near 20% except for every fourth year, the presidential year. And that is only 21% of registered voters so the turnout is actually lower.
Referendum has become a special interest of its own, replete with lobbyists and money and the corruption those can bring. Leaders elected to take hard decisions with long-term consequences are often side-lined by short-term interest groups and majorities are ruling on the rights granted to minorities.