Ballot Initiatives, A History Continued
July 5, 2009
Historically, the initiative process sought to remove the barriers that were prohibiting citizens from participating in government. In part, these barriers were inextricably bound to corruption. Those in political power wanted to preserve their positions; therefore, they did everything within their means to insulate themselves from others. Progressive reformers, thus, targeted “politicians, parties, interest groups, and political institutions” in an attempt to restore the public’s confidence in government as well as remove barriers to political participation (Schacter, 1995, 113). The overarching aim of the initiative process is to strengthen democracy, especially in the form of confidence and participation. Many legal scholars frame the importance of the initiative process in this manner: “The mechanism gives popular mass movements the ability to develop legislative vehicles and secure a date for verdict from fellow citizens. In a manner unmatched in any nation…the initiative is an expression of confidence in ourselves, a reaffirmation of the confidence of the Framers: that free men and women can govern themselves” (Schacter, 1995, 112). The reformists were seeking a way to remove the undue influence of political elites and special interests so that American democracy would once again belong to the people.
Reinserting the decision-making power of the citizenry in a new way became the remedy: “turning legislative decisions over to the people seemed one clear way to do this” (Mattson, 1999, 22). The intended effect was that “[b]ecause the initiative process allowed citizens to register their opinions by direct votes, it promised to be a valuable alternative to representative government, which had become tainted by the influences of privileged interests and partisan politics” (Du Vivier, 2007, 1046). Ultimately, the initiative process was deemed the proper vehicle to restore representative democracy because it left the fate of democracy in the hands of its citizens. Overall, the Progressive era was
[a] major period of systemic reform of local, state, and federal government institutions, culminating in the creation of a national administrative state. Progressive reforms served to create hierarchical bureaucratic organizations to prevent political corruption and restore public trust in government. By changing political institutions, Progressive reforms reshaped American democracy both substantively and procedurally and were critical in adapting government institutions for a new industrial economy. (Tolbert, 2003, 470)
The Progressive reforms swept across multiple levels of society and government. The reforms sought to minimize, if not remove, the high levels of public distrust, frustration with the political process, and, in many ways, outright alienation created by political bargains. Overall, these reforms reoriented the political power structure so that citizens again were the focus of the government and, simultaneously, fostered a newfound trust in government itself.