A Modest Proposition: State Propositions


votevotevote If you’re confused about those ‘initiatives’ or ‘public questions’ on the back of your ballot, don’t fret because many others are as well.

There’s a laundry list of buzz-terms associated with these initiatives, and it takes even a full-fledged NGO (non-governmental organization) like the National Conference of State Legislatures, the NCSL, to break it down. And even then, it still gets murky on which states have what.

First, the notion of direct democracy, that being the very Athenian idea that all of us have a say in our government, is a bit of a fallacy. By the government’s standards, only 8 states have all 6 forms of direct democracy - and again, this is the government talking.

But what are these forms of democracy - and why does this matter - and why are there so many regulations?

The 6 forms include: Legislatively referred constitutional amendment, Legislatively referred state statute, Initiated, state statute, Initiated constitutional amendment , Veto referendum, and Recall, drawing from information from ballotpedia.com, which aggregates encyclopedic articles on state legislation and has been referenced in the New York Times, and Washington Post among others.

To break down those terms, “legislatively” means your state senators and reps. While “initiated” means you - in a food.com booth, with a chicken pesto wrap. “Amendment” vs. “statute?” Well, that’s just what is already written into law versus something new and shiney.

Now these “initiatives” we keep circling back to, because they are also referred to as “propositions,” a term Californians especially know all too well. Comparatively, California, with all 6 types of reform policies, trumps New York - using that term sparingly - which has only one, one! And it’s legislatively referred amendment - meaning your state senator petitioning to debunk a pre-established law, not you the voter, at least we here at Jerk hope you vote.

What this means for the groundlings in states that do have this is simple, you can petition and develop a ‘prop,’ as one on Laguna beach may dub it, but that process is - well it’s a process alright. There’s obviously a money trail.

You need an idea for one thing, then $200 to send in your prop, then the State attorney general processes the proposal to make it into a petition, which according to the LA times actually costs the AG about $8000 – that’s some pricey litigation paperwork. And then a petition is made, and after that you only need a measly 500,000 signatures. Actually, it’s 504,760 as of 2012, as the number is configured by calculating 5% of the amount of voters for the last gubernatorial – governor – elections, says the NCSL.

However, recently, as of August 2015, California’s State Senate put into law a fee increase for initiative proposals, going from $200 to $2000, reports Patrick McGreevy from the LA Times.

At first glance, this may seem like classicism – which it is - but it is also key here to acknowledge that with power comes responsibility, and thus, basically anyone in states with initiated statutes (props) - there’s 21 according to ballotpedia including California obviously – means anyone with a couple hundred bucks and a brain can synthesize a prop. Mind you, one does need some serious cash to get those signatures.

That said, the increase in the processing fee was in response to a prop called the “Sodomite Suppression Act,” which called for the execution of gays and lesbians in California. Yes you read that right, yes it is 2016 - or at least 2015 when the increase happened. So it was on, arguably, steady ground that the increase bill came to fruition

It can be disturbing who proposes these initiatives and what is proposed. Though, formative things do come out of them passing. Recreational weed for example, if you consider that formative. Each state that has recreational marijuana use – there’s four: Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado plus D.C – were all put into place by props remarks Governing.com.

For this election cycle in California, there are now 17 propositions and the legal jargon behind all of them is messy, needless to say. Sites such as ballot.fyi curate information to make the inundated public less reticent in learning what – and why – anyone checks ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on one’s ballot. With all these props , it can be hard to keep up.

In talking with Jimmy Chion, creator of this site, he remarks “all the information is out there, it just takes a massive amount of effort to ingest it and synthesize it into something consumable.”

For the majority of SU students – hailing from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, none of which have initiative statutes – this means at the very least acknowledging what the legislatively enacted bills in any respective state may or may not propose. Before you do, know what you’re checking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for, even if it was proposed by your white, male, cis, senator.

The info is out there, it’s just a matter of knowing what you’re looking for.