Direct Democracy Leads to Governance Dysfunction in California



When Too Much Democracy Threatens Freedom
The Economist


The article focuses on California, where citizens can initiate a referendum to change the state's constitution if they generate sufficient signatures.

As a result, the article argues, California's constitution has been changed more than 500 times, leading to 'dysfunction':

'States with excessive direct democracy, such as California, Oregon and Arizona, now face daunting budget deficits because the recession has exposed the cumulative legacy of past voter initiatives'.

The article goes on to argue that the problems of this form of direct democracy extend to the integrity and functioning of liberal representative democracy more generally, by infringing on the ability of elected representatives to do their job and decide and deliberate on behalf of the constituents who voted for them.

The author concedes that voters will continue to want forms of direct democracy, but there should be some changes:

  • voter-initiated ballots should be harder to achieve
  • the budget and financial implications of any ballot should be clearer, and
  • legislatures should get a chance to address the subject of an initiative before it goes on the ballot


Thumbnail image: California State Capitol. By daveynin/Flickr

Published Date
December 17, 2009