There has been recent buzz in Indian media about concept of Referendums and Initiatives, thanks to Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal referring to this often. So, what is it and whether it will work in India?
First lets see what this means and how it works in USA, one of the countries using this widely:
Ballot Initiative in US:-
State legislatures do make most of our laws and that will most likely always be the case. However, when a legislature is unresponsive to the wishes of the people who elected them the people need the ability to act. Too often legislators are influenced more by well-financed special interest groups and are not listening closely enough to the people who elected them. This process provides citizens with a way to “right the ship” when legislators step out of line.
What is a ballot measure?
Ballot measures, also referred to as ballot initiatives and referendums (I&R), provide citizens the opportunity to discuss and vote on policy issues at the local level and state level. Using this process, (currently 24 US states) citizens can bring an issue to a public vote by gathering a pre-determined number of signatures from registered voters. There are three basic types of ballot measures: initiatives, referendums and recalls.
What is an initiative?
A ballot initiative is a proposal to change or create a law at a local or state level. Instead of relying on the legislature to make all of the laws, citizens can use the ballot initiative process to implement laws on their own. Using the ballot initiative process, citizens can bring about a public vote on a proposed statue or constitutional amendment by gathering a pre-determined amount of signatures from registered voters and turning those signatures in to the state.
What is a referendum?
A referendum places a law that has already been passed by the legislature to a popular vote. Similar to a ballot initiative, it is a citizen led effort and requires a predetermined amount of signatures to qualify the measure to get on the ballot. The legislature can also place a bill to a legislative referendum.
What is a recall?
A recall is a process in which an elected official can be removed from office by the voters before his or her term expires. Similar to other measures, a specified number or percentage of signatures is required for a recall election.
Benefits of Initiatives:
> Better Policy: Ballot initiatives allow citizens to enact meaningful policy changes that otherwise have little chance of being passed by politicians.Just like legislators, voters can pass bad laws or fail to pass good ones. But historically, voters have a far better record. Large, diverse groups of independent people make better decisions.
> Legislator Competition: Initiatives foster competition for legislators. Allowing citizens to challenge bad laws or introduce new laws puts a much-needed check on the monopoly power of state legislatures. In this way, the initiative helps hold government accountable to the people. Perhaps more importantly, legislators often try to hide their personal mistakes to protect their political careers, citizens just want to see the enactment of the best policies. Citizens actually feel the pain when policies don’t work.
> Higher Voter Turnout: Studies have consistently shown that entrusting citizens with the ballot initiative process results in more people voting. The study, “The Effects of Ballot Initiatives on Voter Turnout in the American States”, found that states with the initiative process experienced higher voter turnout. During the 1990s, voter turnout was 7% to 9% greater in midterm elections and 3% to 4.5% higher in presidential elections in states that have the initiative process over those that do not.
> Beating Big Money: People are far less swayed by money than politicians are. Multiple studies reveal that citizens tend to favor “grassroots” initiatives over “big money” initiatives, whereas legislatures usually vote on the side of big money. Special interests may be able to pay to play with elected officials, but it’s far more difficult to bribe a majority of the voters of a state. As just one example, that citizens of California enacted term limits despite being outspent by more than a 6 to 1 margin.
Threats and Restrictions:
The Initiative process has been used throughout its history as a tool for the people to utilize to reign in government when it has become too powerful and when government refuses to deal with the issues supported by the people. Since the end result of most initiatives, especially those that reign in government, has been to limit the government’s power, elected officials have taken offense.
Some Ballot initiatives in recent history:
School funding: In Arizona, Proposition 204 would extend a 1-cent sales tax, which would provide more than $600 million for K–12 schools. Proposition 118 would increase the amount of funding transferred to schools from a state trust by $10 million.
In California, competing propositions would increase personal income taxes, but Proposition 30 would increase taxes for those making over $250,000 a year while Proposition 38 would increase taxes for those making over $7,316.
In Missouri, Proposition B would raise tobacco taxes and distribute some of the revenue to K–12 schools. And in Oregon, Measure 85 would direct receipts from corporate-income and excise taxes that exceed projections to schools rather than back to the private sector.
In California, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food (Proposition 37)
Voters opted against having GMO foods labeled, thanks in large part to the money raised by the opposition. The food industry, led by Monsanto, spent more than five times the money raised by supporters of the “Right to Know” campaign. (example of good initiative defeated by BIG money corps like Monsanto).
Bad example of initiative:
> Ban Gay Marriage – California: Thousands of same-sex couples have tied the knot in California since May, when the State Supreme Court ruled that barring gay marriage was unconstitutional. In recent weeks, gay couples have been rushing to get married before voters weigh in on Proposition 8, which would amend the state’s constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The proposition is backed by conservative religious groups, and supporters expect to see a boost for their cause from sermons. Ultimately, the ban was passed (example of majority voting against interest of Minority).
More examples can be found here: