The specific systems of initiative, referendum, and recall allow voters to have a more influential involvement in their state’s government. In California, an initiative lets citizens go around their state legislature’s activities by allowing voters to put two different types of items on the ballot: statutes and constitutional amendments. For both statutes and constitutional amendments, California voters may use the direct initiative, wherein a qualifying proposal will go directly on a ballot for citizen decision via voting. Some states use indirect initiatives, which must be submitted through the legislature, but California is not one of those states. The steps required for an initiative to ‘qualify’ include filing a proposed petition with a specific state officials who is assigned to handle initiatives. The proposal is then reviewed to ensure its compliance with statutory and language requirements. Next, the ballot title and summary must be prepared and circulated for the required number of voter signatures. Finally, the petitions must be submitted to California’s elections official, who verifies the number of voter signatures. After successful completion of all steps, the initiative appears on the ballot and will be passed if a majority vote is obtained.
A referendum is basically a measure which appears on a ballot, allowing voters to either approve or repeal the legislature’s acts. In California, there is a popular referendum, which means the referendum appears on the ballot due to voter petition drives, without the involvement of the legislature. If the legislature passes something the voters do not approve of, within 90 days after the law passes, voters must petition to receive enough signatures to place the law on the ballot. From the time the new law is passed and the law appears on the ballot, the law will not be in effect; if voters approve the law via ballot, the law will go into effect.
A recall is essentially a political device used to remove and replace a public official before his or her end of term. The recall is simpler than an impeachment, which is a legal device replete with many complicated requirements. A recall does not require specific grounds and is accomplished by election. One of the most memorable recalls is California’s 2003 recall of Governor Gray Davis, who was replaced with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Many political pundits have argued that the initiative, referendum, and recall processes make a state’s citizenry ungovernable. However, this type of mentality is highly subjective, because most of the citizenry is on the exact opposite of the spectrum. America was founded on the idea that the people – the voting citizens – should have a more direct hand in the decisions of their government. Yet, over the decades of political activity of a burgeoning country, the involvement of the citizens began to be purposely lessened by those elected to represent them. Fortunately, wary citizens and politicians began to realize that the erosion of citizen involvement in their government was a slippery slope indeed, hence the birth of the initiative, referendum, and recall processes.
Although many politicians and analysts may disagree with the processes, California is still one of the most progressive states in the U.S. and many citizens are proud to have the opportunity to directly affect the decisions of their legislature. Despite politicians’ desire to limit the people’s involvement, these processes have come to represent yet another form of checks and balances in our governmental system, which is precisely what the founding fathers insisted on establishing and protecting for future Americans.