Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 16: Exercising Our Power

Here’s another Problem That I Never Knew Existed, because I live in a state that allows its citizens to create laws that can be passed on a statewide ballot, rescind laws passed by the legislature, and recall an elected official from office. Alas, not all citizens are so fortunate; said citizens live in 26 states that do not allow political processes known as Initiative, Referendum, and Recall (IRR), the Big Three that give voters a direct voice in writing, passing, and rescinding laws, as well as removing elected officials from office.

In the remaining 24 states, voters can write laws and collect a certain number of signatures on petitions to have their proposed initiatives and referenda placed on the ballot. They can also “fire” elected officials (most often on the local level). This is an example of direct democracy, and it’s the best means we have to bring about all the other reforms we’ve talked about. That's because our other means involves representative democracy, and those representatives tend not to support political reforms that could cost them their power.

When it comes to power, though, not enough people seem to understand the power of IRR. It represents the difference between having someone else (such as a legislator) write a bill and vote on it, and you writing a bill and voting on it. IRR truly puts the power back in the hands of the people. Statutes, constitutional amendments, and other propositions fall under the sway of IRR; some of the 26 states that don't allow IRR may allow, say, a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment but no other initiatives.

To find out if your state is one of the lucky 24, check out the web site of the Initiative & Referendum Institute at USC, an excellent source of information about IRR laws across the country.

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