You think it’s tough to get an initiative on the ballot in California? Think it’s even tougher to pass an initiative in California?

Sure it is. But it’s a lot tougher in Italy.

At a recent conference in Rome, an examination of Italian direct democracy showed the extent to which the traditional political system has gone to look like it has direct democracy, when it really doesn’t.

The game is: permit direct democracy, but make it too hard.

How far does Italy go?

Take signature gathering. It takes 500,000 valid signatures to get a referendum on the ballot in Italy. But that’s not all. All those signatures must be given in the presence of a legal notary—or an elected official.

And if you can get those signatures and qualify for the ballot, there’s no guarantee of a valid vote on your measure. Why? Turnout quorums.

In Italy’s system, a vote on a ballot measure isn’t valid if there isn’t 50 percent voter turnout. Anything less, and the vote is void, even if the ballot measure got more votes. This creates terrible incentives for opponents of a measure to avoid participation in the debate – and just encourage allies to stay home.

Good news: the new Italian government is pushing legislation and constitutional amendment that would open up this system. Signatures would be easier to gather. And the turnout quorum would go away.