Citizens Want A Direct Say in Georgia Government

Many people falsely believe voter initiated referendums are allowed in Georgia and you would be dead wrong.  In Georgia we have legislatively-referred constitutional amendments. This is a proposed constitutional amendment that appears on a state’s ballot as a ballot measure because the state legislature in that state voted to put it before the voters.

A legislatively-referred constitutional amendment is a limited form of direct democracy with comparison to the initiated constitutional amendment. An initiated constitutional amendment is an amendment to a state’s constitution that comes about through the initiative process.

Ballot measures get on the ballot through very different paths. Initiative and referendum, often abbreviated as “I&R,” is the catch-all phrase for ballot measures that get on ballots through a signature collection process of some kind. Only about half of the American states allow their citizens to place a measure on the ballot through the collection of signatures.

Take a wild guess where Georgia falls in these two groups. Georgia citizens do not have any statewide initiative and referendum rights. 

Citizen initiatives

A fantastic book that talks about the origins and also current threats is the one written by Steven Plott called Giving Voters a Voice.  In 18 states, citizens can amend their state constitution through the process of collecting signatures on petitions.

Once the signatures are collected and have successfully survived the signature certification process in the state in question, the measure is then determined by one or more state offices to be eligible to appear on the ballot. There is usually a period of time between the determination that the measure is eligible for the ballot and the printing of the ballots. It is not uncommon for political opponents of the particular citizen initiative to sue the state’s election officers or Secretary of State to demand that–for whatever reasons the opponents bring forward–the measure not be placed on the ballot. If any such legal challenges are unsuccessful, the ballots are printed, and it proceeds to a vote of the people.

In Nevada, a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment must be voted on twice, each time receiving a majority vote in favor, before it becomes part of the Nevada Constitution.

The eighteen states that allow constitutional amendments via the ballot initiative process are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and South Dakota.

However, the laws governing the initiative process in Illinois and Mississippi are so restrictive that no initiated constitutional amendments have been on their statewide ballots in decades.

One hundred fifty-eight (158) statewide ballot questions were certified for spots on 42 statewide ballots in 2014, as of October 28, 2014. Twelve of these measures were on pre-November ballots, leaving 146 for a decision on November 4. Of all 158 measures, 99 were approved, 53 were defeated and six are still too close to call.

Voters weighed in on some of the nation’s most contentious topics during the November 4, 2014 elections, making this election cycle one of the most significant in recent history. Decisions made at the ballot box established important precedents and set the tone for future elections.

Hot-button topics featured on statewide ballots included abortion, criminal justice, education funding, gambling, guns, immigration, insurance, the minimum wage, parental rights, redistricting, salaries of government officials, state courts, state government spending, taxes and voting rights. But don’t expect to see any in Georgia on the ballot in Georgia because here the politicians don’t seem to like allowing the people to have a direct say in government.

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Citizen in Charge Foundation

Luckily there is a determined and organized group that are tired of this modern day version of serfdom and are demanding a change. They call their group Citizens in Charge. In Georgia citizens are unable to demand any ballot initiatives which gives the state legislators far more power than in states where citizens can start a petition and ask for a vote. Ballot initiatives allow citizens to enact meaningful policy changes that otherwise have little chance of being passed by politicians. 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.

 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.

The initiative process helps hold government accountable to the people. Ballot initiatives and referendums create more interest, therefore higher voter turnout, in elections. Initiative and referendum have been part of our country since before the founding. Our founding fathers thought that the citizens’ right to petition their government was crucial to maintaining our liberty. Thomas Jefferson argued to have I&R included in the Virginia constitution in 1775. James Madison included a push for I&R in Federalist 49 when he stated:

“[a]s the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived, it seems strictly consonant to the republican theory to recur to the same original authority … whenever it may be necessary to enlarge, diminish, or newmodel the powers of government.” are opposed mainly because they view this as relinquishing some of their power.

Politicians in Atlanta are mainly opposed because they are afraid of sharing power. By allowing people to choose what they want to vote on that would give some power back to the people and politicians only very reluctantly will ever decide to relinquish any power. Issues have passed through the initiative process on all ideological sides. People have voted to reduce their taxes and people have voted to increase their taxes. It is impossible to say that I&R favors any ideology. Depending on the state and the individual legislator the way I&R has been used can be either encouraging or terrifying to those in charge of any given state at the time.

Since the first statewide initiative appeared on Oregon’s ballot in 1904, citizens in the 24 states with the initiative process have placed approximately 2,051 statewide initiatives on the ballot and have only adopted 841 (41%). Even though 24 states have the statewide initiative process, over 60% of all initiative activity has taken place in just six states – Arizona, California, Colorado, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington. Additionally, it is important to point out that very few initiatives actually make it to the ballot. In California, according to political scientist Dave McCuan, only 26% of all initiatives filed have made it to the ballot and only 8% of those filed actually were adopted by the voters.

Threats and Restrictions

Legislative attempts to “reform” the process aren’t new. Legislators since the first use of the process have been trying to restrict its use for they see it – rightfully so – as a means reserved to the people to limit their power. But as William Jennings Bryon said in 1920:

[W]e have the initiative and referendum in Nebraska; do not disturb them. If defects are discovered, correct them and perfect the machinery … make it possible for the people to have what they want … we are the world’s teacher in democracy; the world looks to us for an example. We cannot ask others to trust the people unless we are ourselves willing to trust them.

California is a perfect example. Since the voters first adopted the initiative process in 1912, the state legislature has consistently tried to make it more difficult. When California first adopted the process, the citizens had an unlimited amount of time to collect signatures. Then, as the population of the state ballooned – which meant that the signatures had to collect more signatures on petitions – the state legislature was busy shortening the circulation period. It went from unlimited to four years and then to the current requirement of 180 days to collect over 750,000 signatures.

In November 2000, Nebraska voters rejected a law placed on the ballot by the state legislature that would require initiatives to pass twice before becoming law. Legislators in Alaska, Arizona and Washington are debating whether to impose new geographic distribution requirements for petition circulators, while California and Florida legislators are mulling whether to change the majorities required to pass initiatives. And on May 16th, 2000 Oregon voters went to the polls and defeated an increase in the number of signatures required to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot – an amendment placed on the ballot by the state legislature.

Make no mistake the state politicians do not like allowing people to have a direct say in their own affairs. Despite the fact that the citizens adopted the initiative process to ensure citizen government, most of the states where the citizens provided that they retain initiative rights have seen the legislature enact legislation that restricts rather than facilitates the use of these powers by the people. The legislatures’ regulation of the initiative and referendum have often violated the citizenry’s First Amendment rights as articulated by U.S. Supreme Court in Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414 (1986). It can be argued that not a single example of truly facilitating legislation has ever been enacted by any state legislature. Furthermore, the restrictions imposed on the citizenry are typically not imposed on other individuals seeking to use a state’s electoral processes to invoke changes in state government, whether it be through lobbying, legislating, or running for political office.

What Can Be Done in Georgia?

The most important thing you can do is contact the Governor, your state senator, and your state house representative and let them know you want the law changed to allow voter initiated referendums. Take 2 minutes out of your day and write a short message saying you support voter initiated referendums and want legislation introduced that would bring this to Georgia. Also mention your vote in the next election will go for a candidate that supports this effort and keep that promise.

I would hope that with such a large group of politicians up there in Atlanta that more than a few would support this measure and need our support. Before elections ask politicians to give their positions on voter initiated referendums so the voters know where they stand. They hope this issue does not get covered in the media so make sure that it does. Write letters to the editor in your local newspapers and feel free to copy and paste from this article in your letter. Freedom always comes at a price so if we sit back meekly, nothing will change. Let your voices be heard.

Anthony Wilcox takes a look at the 2014 midterm elections, good 2015 races for Governor and Mayor, and potential Presidential primary candidates in a great book called The Annoyed Voter’s Guide.  Hailing from Springfield, Illinois, and formerly active in politics at the state and federal levels, he gives an inside, view-from-the-ground perspective of what’s going right, and so very wrong, with our elections and politics. He also speaks of the importance of voter initiatives as a means for true representative democracy.

November 4, 2014 has come and gone and with the election and unseating of many politicians, 146 ballot measures also were decided. The issues ranged from minimum wage hikes to marijuana legalization.

Ballotpedia has a comprehensive guide to all of the ballot measures that were up for a vote on Tuesday. http://ballotpedia.org/2014_ballot_measures Wouldn’t you love to be able to vote on some of these in Georgia for a change?  An ABC news report on the results of several well-publicized measures throughout the United States: Here

If ever there was truly a bipartisan issue in Georgia where Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party, Libertarians, Moderates, and Independents can get behind this should be the one because it is about having a seat at the table. Right now Georgia voters are standing outside in the cold looking in while politicians sit inside and decide our fate with little direct input from voters. We demand a seat and the chance to have our voices heard.

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2 Comments

  1. Tomas Fuentes November 10, 2014 Reply
  2. Jill from Conyers November 10, 2014 Reply

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