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.”