“The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens and greater sphere of country over which the latter may be extended.” –James Madison Federalist 10
Ballot initiatives are the result of the Progressive movement. Direct democracy allows for mob rule…which is tyranny. In a republic, as the Founder’s established, the people rule, but they rule through institutions. Direct democracy is a set of proposals whereby the traditional institutions of American government, principally at the state level, are circumvented. If you have a Progressive sentiment that wants a certain legislation passed, but the legislature will not do it for whatever reason, then the people have the right to have the law placed on a ballot and to vote on it directly without the participation of the legislature. This is now ubiquitous in the state government. Most people do not realize that the ballot initiative is the legacy of the Progressive movement.
Progressives view the Constitution as a living document. Progressives also believe in direct democracy and this includes using mechanisms such as the ballot initiative, referendum, and recall. They believe this is superior to the Founders’ concept of representative government. Our Founders knew that the people could, at times, make wrong choices…usually because of passion. Our founders established a slower, deliberative legislative process to help avoid this.
“Whereas democracy entails direct rule of the people, in a republic the people rule indirectly, through their representatives. A republic can therefore encompass a greater population and geographical area. This difference is decisive in the American experiment, Publius argues, for an expansive republic is able to control the inherent danger of majority faction.” –Hillsdale College U.S. Constitution Reader
Ballot initiatives are used as a scapegoat for legislators who do not want to be held accountable to their constituents for how they voted. If they put it on the ballot, they are not responsible for the fate of the law. I always made the excuse that it helped pass by a liberal Governor who would just veto the bill when the Republicans do not have the majority they need to override the veto. What a poor excuse. Our Framers knew that a direct democracy had failed in the past, so they established America on the representative republic format.
The Framers knew that men occasionally make mistakes and since our nature never changes, they knew that our passions could easily rule our thought process. Being passionate isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it does, however, have the tendency to cloud one’s judgment. This is why the Founders used representatives through a slower legislative process rather than the swift, passionate votes coming from the voters.
Both Republicans and Democrats use ballot initiatives to their advantage. At this stage in history, I don’t see how we’ll ever be able to rid the government of ballot initiatives. I can no longer support the legislature placing issues on the ballot. The government that our Founders established worked, and it has benefited America greatly. As American government has shifted away from a representative republic to a direct democracy, we have seen the steady decline.
“The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. On the other hand, the effect may be inverted.
Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests of the people. The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are most favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations.” –Federalist 10