My Christmas Wish: A New Initiative Process With a New Ballot Design

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

What do I want for Christmas?

A new initiative process.

Regular Fox & Hounds Daily readers know that I’m a fan of the Swiss three-question ballot initiative. Some have written to say it’s too complicated. Some say it’s politically unrealistic.

It’s neither.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has offered a counter-proposal of sorts in his thoughtful initiative reform proposal. Steinberg suggests that the legislature be able to put statutory changes on the ballot by majority vote – a power that would permit counter-proposals. Another piece of Steinberg’s proposal – a 60-day period for negotiation between legislature and initiative sponsor – also could effectively spur talks and deliberation that, if they don’t produce a compromise, should produce legislative counter-proposals.

For those who think such ballots would be too complicated for California voters, take a look below. You’ll see how initiatives appear on a variety of different Swiss ballots. The first question is the initiative. The second question is the legislative counter-proposal. And the third question asks voters which measure they prefer if both pass. (The voter who has filled in this ballot has voted “Yes” for the initiative and “No” on the counter-proposal in each case).

How complicated does this look? Even in foreign languages.

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