From the Expert:
Direct Democracy Enjoys Widespread Support
By Audrey Wall, CSG’s Book of the States Managing Editor
The initiative process enjoys widespread support in every state, according to a survey from the Citizens in Charge Foundation that was released at the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy July 30.
That survey found 67 percent favor the initiative and referendum process, 14 percent oppose it and 10 percent are unsure about the process.
The support comes from all political ideologies, and the attendees at the forum illustrated the interest in direct democracy. People from around the world representing a cross-section of the global community met for five days in early August to discuss the various forms of direct democracy in use in 26 states and more than 100 countries.
“Direct democracy is one important way to bring the people into representative government at all levels—local, state, national and transnational,” a statement released at the end of the forum said. “It is a process that works best in places where freedom and human rights are protected. To improve direct democracy, we must continue to learn from each other, bridging boundaries of nationality, ideology and party.”
That bridge was on display at the 2010 Global Forum. Speakers from the U.S. represented the spectrum of American politics from progressives, former Alaska U. S. Sen. Mike Gravel and Ralph Nader, to conservatives, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and John Fund of The Wall Street Journal. With representation from Jane Hamsher, documentary film producer and activist, Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge and Citizens in Charge Foundation, and noted academics, Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies and John Matsusaka of the I&R Institute, the assembly gave voice to a broad range of American ideologies.
The panels and breakouts gave attendees an opportunity to participate at some level in the discussions. In keeping with the direct democracy subject matter, attendees could stay engaged in the process using interactive keypad voting, which offered immediate feedback on consensus.
The forum was held in San Francisco, and the group acknowledged California’s initiative process needs some work “because the reputation of the state’s direct democracy is negatively and unfairly affecting perceptions of direct democracy around the world.”
The group also agreed to three values that must be applied to direct democracy everywhere:
Transparency: Forum attendees said citizens have a right to know as much as possible about the people and money behind every initiative and referendum, as long as individuals are protected from coercion and retribution for their votes or signatures.
Open access: Attendees said access to the process, especially the qualification of measures for ballots, should be based on measures of substantial popular support and should not be dependent on money or approval of public officials, political parties or interest groups. They also believe technology should be fully incorporated into the process.
Deliberation: They also agreed that a deliberative process driven and managed by citizens—including views from all sides in the debate—should be part of every direct democracy.
The group stressed the importance of time to the health of direct democracy. “We are concerned that many direct democratic systems, particularly those in the United States, fail to provide the time necessary for thorough deliberation and open access,” the statement released at the end of the forum said.