Nevada, California and 25 other states share a tradition of direct democracy in legislation uncommon in the older Eastern states going back to the founding generation of this country. While most of the Founders did not approve of direct democracy, later as new states entered the union, these institutions were established.
On its face, the idea that the people can take action to change laws they don’t like seems like a grand idea. However, as it turns out, the results have created a mess in various states. A recent example is a California attorney who paid the filing fee for a ballot initiative that essentially allows the shooting of gays in the head so as to “avoid the wrath of God” upon the rest of us. Scary to say the least. Not that this craziness would ever be voted into law by the people, let alone garner enough petition signatures to even appear on the ballot, but the fact that the state has to legitimize the thought by putting the proposal on their website and other official documents is lunacy.
If such proposals aren’t bad enough, Nevada, California and several other states have passed by ballot initiative bans on same-sex marriage, denying gay couples a fundamental right everyone else enjoys. Most of those have since been found in violation of the U.S. Constitution, essentially making all the money to pass and later defend in court these bans an entire waste of taxpayer money.
Even worse than these bans, Colorado voters once adopted an amendment to their State Constitution precluding any judicial, legislative, or executive action designed to protect persons from discrimination based on their “homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships.” In other words, a simple majority of voters in Colorado wanted to make sure they could deny gay people a place to live and even the right to work, among other things if they wished. It became law, but once again was found to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by the Supreme Court of the United States. Millions of taxpayer dollars down the drain, all for naught.
If voter approved discrimination isn’t bad enough, voters in Colorado passed into law a requirement that all taxes proposed by local or state government must be approved by a vote of the people. That makes appropriations governed essentially by direct democracy. No matter what happens, whether demographic changes, or other changes in the state that might require changing how large the state’s budget might need to be, the lawmakers’ hands are tied. Generally the voters don’t study the issues enough to make an informed decision about nuanced tax policy questions. Generally they just say no to any tax.
Some people would say this is a great thing. The people being in charge is a good thing. Yet that just isn’t the way the system was designed to operate, and some of our greatest political minds have expressed why it’s a really bad idea… even writing into the constitution the guarantee of a “republican (representative) form of government” in Article IV, Section 4.
It was the main drafter of our Constitution, James Madison, who wrote:
“Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
There’s something to be said for the practicality of allowing our representatives to make decisions, and allowing time for voters to react to a law’s implementation until the next election instead of legislating on the ballot. There’s also something to be said for not letting absurd proposals like killing of gays become part of our political dialogue.