PPIC: It’s time to reform the initiative process.

California voters want to see some changes in the initiative process to connect it with the Legislature, increase disclosure of campaign funders and re-engage citizens, according to a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

“These reforms are likely to have an impact beyond the initiative process,” PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare, the report’s author, said in a news release. “They hold considerable promise for increasing citizen engagement, encouraging voter participation, and building trust in state government.”

The report, Reforming California’s Initiative Process, notes that in the decade since the gubernatorial recall election, voters have been asked to weigh in on 100 state ballot propositions, 68 of which were citizens’ initiatives.

There’s been a sense that the century-old initiative process has run amok, becoming a tool of the same sort of special interests it was supposed to sideline – in May, 55 percent of California adults polled by PPIC believed the process is controlled by special interests. Yet PPIC polls have found both broad support for the process as well as for improvements to it.

Californians like the idea of expanding the Legislature’s involvement in the initiative process, so long voters remain part of the decision-making. PPIC found overwhelming majorities favor having a period of time that an initiative sponsor and the legislature could meet to seek compromise before a measure goes to the ballot. Overwhelming majorities of Californians also support a system of review and revision for proposed initiatives to try to avoid legal issues and drafting errors.

One way to set up such a system would be to revive California’s indirect initiative, in which sponsors bring their initiatives to the legislature after the required number of signatures has been gathered, the report suggests.

There’s also strong support for increasing public disclosure of funding sources; holding televised debates for initiative campaigns; having initiatives be renewable by voters after a certain number of years; allowing more time for volunteer-only signature gatherers to qualify a measure for the ballot; and creating an independent citizens’ initiative commission.


California voters already have approved ballot measures to create a top-two primary system and a citizens’ redistricting commission, to change term limits, and to allow budgets to be approved with a simple legislative majority.

“In the last five years, Californians have taken bold actions to reform their state government,” Baldassare said. “Initiative reform — if pursued thoughtfully — could result in a brighter future for the state.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    I’m opposed to anything which proposes greater involvement by the legislature in anything. I’d rather walk down Monument Blvd. flashing a roll of $100 bills.

  • hcat

    If we would require a two thirds vote to impose any spending mandate, like Prop 98, it would be helpful. And make it retroactive!

  • JohnW

    I think the initiative process should be limited to “recalling” actions of the legislature or reversing past initiatives. Wasn’t that the original idea — to serve as a “check and balance” on corrupted elected officials? Legislating by money-driven direct democracy is a bad idea, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in California.

  • Willis James

    The single worst post I’ve ever seen you pen.
    Essentially leaving it up to the legislature to create all the new laws and constitutional amendments we need.
    For example, in 2008 and 2010 we had redistricting reforms for the legislature and then the congress.
    Without those being placed on the ballot, the legislature would NEVER have changed the rules, except to favor themselves.
    One could make a long list of examples of why your idea to limit the initiative process is flawed.

  • JohnW

    Willis James —

    Thanks for keeping track of which of my posts are worst! You make a very good point about the the redistricting. Same goes for the open/top-two primary. “Good government” reforms such as these are examples of appropriate use of the direct initiative process. However, I continue to believe that use of the direct initiative process for general legislating does more harm than good. It’s been hijacked by the very same corrupt forces it was supposed to keep in check.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Just for fun, let’s turn Sac over to the homeless, mentally ill and inmate populations. Give em full rein fer 2 yrs. After that, the rest of us will assess the situation.

  • Elwood


    We haven’t already done that? I thought that was the problem.