Reading through the ideas submitted to Tim Draper’s  Fix California Challenge is frustrating, for a couple reasons.

The first is that so few of the ideas are new; even the four finalists in the competition are recycled (though many are good ideas)—a previously proposed initiative for a larger legislature, applying transparency laws to the legislature, a Canadian idea of requiring a law be removed for every new law added, and a restructuring of the state’s county map.

The second is the narrow band of people who submitted ideas – there are precious few women who submitted ideas. And most of the ideas involve governmental or technocratic structure. There’s barely a word about culture or place.

But there are a few intriguing thoughts. The best new idea made the initial cut – but isn’t one of the final four ideas – involves initiative. It provides an alternative method to qualify measures – something that the state needs. It would allow local governments to qualify measures for the statewide ballot, simply via accumulation of their endorsements.

Here are the particulars from the idea’s originator, identified online as calebsmithoakland

I propose that if local governments representing 15% of the state’s residents endorse a ballot amendment, it will be voted on. If local governments representing 10% of the state’s residents endorse a statute or veto referendum, it will also get a statewide vote.

For the purposes of this process, each resident of a city or town is “represented” by the town or city government. For Californians who live in unincorporated areas, the County Board of Supervisors shall “represent” them instead.

To avoid possible tensions related to water rights, any ballot measure qualifying through this process must receive the support of at least 5% of California’s population from exclusively Northern California AND at least 5% of California’s population from exclusively Southern California. That way, a large city like Los Angeles or a group of cities (San Francisco, Oakland, etc.) can’t gang up on the other half of the state.

Of course, these thresholds are preliminary- I welcome suggestions for improvement and refinement.

This new process for placing measures on the state ballot will correct a dangerous imbalance between Sacramento and local governments- right now Sacramento can rob and constrain and preempt local governments with impunity. Furthermore, by providing a way for average citizens to advocate for ballot measures that bypasses the state legislators and the special interests that sometimes drive independent ballot initiatives, this new way to place ballot initiatives will recapture the spirit of participatory democracy that led to the ballot initiative.

I like the non-paid signatures route to the ballot, and the notion of letting local governments balance Sacramento. It also suggests that citizens, by going to their local governments with a good idea, could drive big change. That’s exciting.