Newsletter N°18 - November 2020
In the USA, direct democracy as a medicine against divisiveness
The fate of Donald Trump’s Presidency and the future of America weren’t the only choices confronting voters on November 3rd. Citizens in 32 states cast their vote on 117 statewide ballot propositions. This is the lowest number of statewide propositions the voters faced in the 21st century, due to the immense challenges of collecting signatures amidst COVID quarantines and other related restrictions.
As with every election when the people have the opportunity to make decisions on issues that impact their daily lives, the topics of the ballot questions were far reaching – from animal welfare, drug legalization, labor laws, race and immigration, abortion, to the design of a new flag, statehood, and on the very fate of direct democracy itself.
Proposed laws that would make it more difficult to pass future ballot propositions were on the ballot in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota. All three proposals were defeated: an outcome that makes clear the citizens‘ strong belief in the need for direct democracy as a check and balance on government.
However, courts are becoming more active in denying the people’s ability to rightly decide on issues that matter most to them. Using liberal and questionable interpretations of the technical requirements to place issues on the ballot, courts invalidated initiatives because they violated arcane and illogical laws that limit the subject matter of ballot propositions as well as who can collect signatures.
This election, like many before it, made clear that direct democracy at the state level in the United States is an important tool of self-governance and a necessary check to limit the power of government. It is also a safety valve that allows the people to vote on controversial issues in a way that will end in peaceful resolution. This is why direct democracy at the federal level is a critical need that must be addressed. Americans need the ability to voice opinions on highly controversial issues collectively as a nation.
If direct democracy at the federal level existed, there is little doubt that the voters would be less likely to vote into office individuals who feed off the divisiveness of an issue and instead put in office those who respect the rule of law and will work to unify rather than divide. Let’s hope that this election is the first step in bringing the critical awareness necessary to give the citizens direct democracy at the federal level, so we no longer put our fate in the emotional aberrations of a single person.
M. Dane Waters,
Board Member, Democracy International