As direct democracy spreads around the world, it’s stagnant in the United States. Americans can vote on issues at the local level and about half the states. But not at the national level.
Intriguingly, two long-shot presidential candidates want to change that. Both live in California.
The first of these is the billionaire Tom Steyer, who just entered the race. He’s more closely associated with climate change and efforts to impeach President Trump. But his platform includes a call for establishing national direct democracy.
This would be limited by global standards. And it wouldn’t be an initiative process, per se. Steyer instead proposes a Congressionally authorized national referendum that would be limited to no more than two key issues each year. He argues that such a process would increase voter participation and be a force against gridlock.
The other candidate is the former Alaska U.S. Senator Mike Gravel, who now lives in Northern California. He has spent decades advocating for a national initiative process, as part of an effort to make it harder for the country to declare war. His proposal would both amend the U.S. constitution and federal law to set up procedures for the initiative that would include an Electoral Trust to administer it.
Neither Californian has any real chance of winning. But if either were to manage to get enough attention—Steyer might qualify for a debate—he’d have an opportunity to provide a much higher profile for the idea of national direct democracy.