California Ballot Initiative
Love them or hate them, ballot initiatives are deeply rooted in California’s political process. The state adopted the initiative system over a century ago to empower citizens through direct democracy.
The new measure filed by former Fox News host Steve Hilton would cut red tape that hampers the construction of housing. It also calls for capping impact fees that can increase costs.
Initiatives are a form of direct democracy
Initiatives, referendums, and recalls are forms of direct democracy that allow citizens to change state law by ballot. Although critics argue that these tools lead to mob rule, they are important elements of our democratic system. They reduce the flaws inherent in the legislative process and help correct legislators who misunderstand the will of the people.
During every statewide election, California voters decide on a number of statewide initiatives. These ballot measures are known as propositions, and they range from granting the right to abortion and birth control to regulating kidney dialysis clinics. Currently, there are seven ballot measures in the running for approval this November.
To qualify for the ballot, proponents of an initiative file signatures with local elections officials. These officials then conduct a random sample of the submitted signatures. If the sample demonstrates that the signatures meet the minimum requirements, the measure will be placed on the ballot. The initiative process is a crucial part of California’s democratic history and an integral component of the nation’s experiment in direct democracy.
They are a tool for reform
Citizens may use the initiative to propose new laws or repeal existing ones. In California, they may initiate legislation as either state constitutional amendments or state statutes. They may also ask to veto legislation that has already been adopted by the legislature (people’s veto referendum).
The ballot initiatives that make it onto the ballot often require the signature of more than 100,000 voters. When an initiative receives the necessary number of signatures, local elections officials conduct a random sample to verify the authenticity of the signatures. If the result of this sample is above 110 percent, the measure qualifies for the ballot.
Some initiatives are aimed at reducing the state’s high housing costs, which are one of the most pressing concerns of many California residents. One proposal – sponsored by a former Fox News host and named for her college-age daughter who died from taking fentanyl – would limit local impact fees that can drive up the cost of building.
They are expensive
Getting something on the ballot with a ballot initiative can be expensive. In addition to the $2,000 fee, a ballot title and summary must be approved by the state attorney general. This process takes time, which drives up costs. Also, mercenary signature gatherers charge a good chunk of the money spent on the drive.
This year, there are a number of high-profile initiatives in circulation. These include a sports betting initiative funded by online gambling giants and a measure to limit civil lawsuit awards for private kidney dialysis centers. Other measures in circulation would impose a tax on plastic packaging and utensils, raise the minimum wage, and limit corporate donations to politicians.
Many of these efforts are driven by business interests that want to reverse legislation passed by a Democratic-controlled state legislature. This strategy paid off for ride-hailing apps and bail bond companies in 2020, when they each spent millions to defeat state laws that threatened their business models.
They are controversial
Love ’em or hate ’em, ballot propositions are deeply ingrained in California’s political system. The process was adopted over a century ago to empower citizens through direct democracy. This year, voters will decide on bonds to fund stem cell research, a law that allows 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, labor policies for ride-hailing apps, rules for kidney dialysis clinics, and more. In addition, voters will decide on seven statewide ballot measures, including a proposal to ban flavored tobacco and a constitutional amendment limiting state senators’ terms.
Another measure seeks to cap impact fees that can drive up the cost of building new homes, and would require a portion of those taxes be placed in a housing fund. But Gov. Gavin Newsom has come out against the measure. And, according to a new report from the state legislative analyst office, the initiative could face serious legal challenges and opposition from the oil industry. This is because the initiative could violate state election laws and the constitution.