Kevin Drum hates ballot initiatives:

Capping property taxes at 1% or requiring a two-thirds vote to raise taxes — regardless of whether I agree with them — are big enough issues to deserve a place in the constitution. Diver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and after school programs aren’t. It’s time for an initiative to end initiatives.


What’s bizarre is one would think we’d have learned this from our own history: the inflexibility of the Articles of Confederation, attempting to tie the central government’s hands on the most trivial of matters, was a major reason for its failure. It’s also amusing that California, lauded as one of the most progressive states in the union, has placed itself in exactly the same pickle as Alabama, generally considered one of the most provincial. The Alabama Constitution of 1901 is almost funny: it’s bigger than a New York phone book, with even minor local matters such as whether a given county can sell alcohol, a matter for statewide ballot and amendment.

Our political system is designed around the principles of representative government and regular, fixed elections. It’s a shame that those touchstones are being so casually undermined.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Matthew says:

    As a university student in Florida who saw the state university system face a major budget crunch because of an ill-conceived class size amendment to our constitution in the last election, I wholeheartedly concur with Kevin about referenda. The public too often votes for ballot initiatives without understanding what they’ll cost or how they’ll change the dynamics of politics in the future.

  2. Kevin Drum says:

    Yeah, dammit, why are licensing divers anyway? Let ’em snorkel in peace, I say.

    Hmmm, what’s that? Drivers? Oh.

  3. Steven says:

    A main problem is that people in general ignore legislative politics. In Alabama voters pretend like legislators grow like fungus in Montgomery. and no one knows how they got there. In CA the local news ignores Sacramento (which is true in most states, where you rarely see state politics unless you live in the capital). Ballot initiatives allow one to go around the legislture and create problems for the existing policy structure to do things that “sound good” and that people don’t have to petition the legislture for, because they can get a ballot initiative instead.

  4. DANEgerus says:

    Funny how (D)’s hate democracy… fact is here in Oregon the Teacher’s Union campaigned ( with tax dollars ) to cripple our referrendum process…

    they didn’t like tax-limitation measures much…

  5. Well, this is like complaining about the weather since Californians are not going to give up their ballot initiatives. Kevin’s side of the aisle would be the first to denounce such a proposal as a right-wing conspiracy to take democracy away from the masses (most of the initiatives in California have had a decidedly left of center tint to them).

    Since things aren’t going to change, why complain about them? What is that saying about learning to live with the things you can’t change…?

  6. melvin toast says:

    I think there are two issues here. One is whether or not you think the public should vote directly on something that will become law, and the other is whether something that becomes an ammendment to the constitution should be so easily adopted.

    I didn’t know that initiatives become part of the constitution nor could I tell you the difference between a proposition and an initiative. HOWEVER, I think that direct democracy is an effective tool. There are many cases where elected bodies are insensitive to the public will. Redistricting for instance is one. Loading up the budget with pork, serves individuals but not the public.

    To say that using a ballot measure to execute the public will is wrong is a denial of democracy. Everyone get a vote whether they’re an idiot or not. Sometimes the public’s right and sometimes we’re wrong. But are the public’s decisions any worse than Gray Davis’s? If the public is dumb, it’s the will of dumb people. But it’s still THEIR will.

    Should ballot measures become part of the constitution? Probably not, but they shouldn’t be as easily repealed as a
    regular law. Although one may argue that since the public voted for it legislators would be hesitatant to screw with it, the very fact that you needed a ballot measure to pass it shows how unpopular it would be amongst legislators and how eager they might be to shake them off.