Meer dan 150 referenda in de VS op de dag van de presidentsverkiezingen
Op 4 november spraken de Amerikaanse kiezers zich niet alleen uit over de personenkwestie "Obama of McCain?", maar ook over 152 andere vragen. In maar liefst 36 Amerikaanse deelstaten mogen de burgers beslissen over thema's zoals hernieuwbare energie, het homohuwelijk of het opnemen van kredieten door overheden. In 59 gevallen gaat het om een referendum op initiatief van de burgers zelf. De andere referenda werden door commissies of parlementen geïnitieerd of zijn wettelijk verplicht. In totaal mogen de Amerikaanse burgers in 2008 over 273 vragen zelf beslissen, waarvan er 68 "van onderaf" opgestart werden.
In 24 deelstaten kunnen de inwoners dank zij een initiatiefrecht zelf politieke vragen op de agenda zetten. Deze mogelijkheid bestaat sinds 1898. Volgens het Initiative & Referendum Institute (IRI) kent het burgerinitiatief in Amerika sinds 1990 een hogere vlucht dan ooit: maar liefst 741 initiatieven werden opgestart.
Vandaag bestrijkt de burgerwetgeving een breed spectrum, gaande van het homohuwelijk of de steun aan minderheden tot dierenbescherming en het medisch gebruik van marihuana. Maar ook thema's met een weerslag op de begroting zijn niet uitgesloten. Zo hadden alleen in de maand november 15 referenda plaats over de vraag of de overheid kredieten mag opnemen (bvb. voor alternatieve energiebronnen, medische zorgverstrekking of hogesnelheidstreinen).
Ook in Duitsland worden referenda op deelstaatniveau steeds belangrijker. Met 27 referenda op volksinitiatief was 2007 een rekordjaar voor de Duitse directe Democratie.
In Vlaanderen tot slot mogen de burgers dit jaar stemmen over maar liefst zev... Oh, excuus, vijf jaar te vroeg.
Deze tekst is een vrije vertaling van een persbericht van Mehr Demokratie eV.
The big story for ballot propositions this year is the surge of social issues. Tax and spending issues that normally dominate initiatives and referendums are taking a back seat in November to a diverse collec-
tion of social issues, with intriguing potential spillovers onto the presidential election.
As of mid-October, voters in 36 states are set to decide 152 ballot propositions in November. Signatures are still being counted for an Ohio measures. Voters faced 162 propositions in November 2004, and 204 propositions in November 2006, so this is looking to be a down year for direct democracy.
Sixty of the measures were placed on the ballot by citizen petition, 59 of them initiatives (proposed new statutes or constitutional amendments) and one a referendum (proposal to repeal a law passed by the legislature). Four initiatives that had qualified for the ballot in Colorado were withdrawn by sponsors. Five measures were placed on the ballot by state commissions, and three were required by state constitutions (whether to call a constitutional convention, required every 20 years in Connecticut, Hawaii, and Illinois). The remaining 84 measures were placed on the ballot by legislatures. Continuing a trend, courts have been active in removing measures from the ballot, often because of problems in the petition process.
The 59 initiatives in November together with 9 initiatives from earlier in the year bring the annual total to 68 initiatives. There were 66 initiatives in November 2004 and November 76 initiatives in 2006, so citizen-driven activity is similar to the recent past. For the decade as a whole (2000-2008), the number of initiatives is 362, short of the record 379 for the decade 1990-1999, but still the second busiest decade since the initiative process was adopted in 1898. See IRI Report, Overview of Initiative Use, 1904-2007, at www.iandrinstitute.org for historical statistics.
This IRI report highlights key issues and provides a state-by-state list all of ballot measures. For additional nonpartisan information on ballot propositions, see www.iandrinstitute.org, Ballotpedia (www.ballotpedia.org), and the National Conference of State Legislatures (www.ncsl.org).
A few propositions are likely to garner national attention because they could impact policy nationwide, or influence presidential or senate campaigns.
• Gay marriage. Gay marriage has been a hot issue since February 2004 when the supreme court of Massachusetts found a right to same-sex marriage in the state constitution. That ruling set off a backlash across the country, with citizen groups and legislatures rushing to place constitutional amendments on the ballot to head off a similar ruling by courts in their states. So far 29 of 30 propositions defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman have been approved. In 2000, before this issue exploded on the national stage, California voters approved Proposition 22, banning gay marriage, by a 61-39 margin. Because Proposition 22 was a statute rather than a constitutional amendment, however, it was vulnerable to being overturned as a violation of the state constitution. In May 2008, the Republican-dominated Supreme Court of California did just that, issuing a 4-3 ruling that the state constitution contains a fundamental “right to marry” that applies to same-sex couples. California’s Proposition 8 in November is an attempt to reverse that ruling, giving voters the option to amend the state constitution this time. Arizona and Florida voters will also consider constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. For more on same-sex marriage, see Ballotwatch Report BW 2008-2, “Same-Sex Marriage: Breaking the Firewall in California?”, available at www.ballotwatch.org.
Proposition 8 is important for several reasons. So far the movement to legalize gay marriage has been driven by courts, and not by the legislatures or initiatives, the more democratic parts of the government. If California voters reject Proposition 8, thereby affirming the right to gay marriage, it will be the first significant popular affirmation of the idea. Also, California has been a bellwether in the past — for tax limits, term limits, environment — and was one of the first states to approve a ban on gay marriage, so a victory in the Golden State for gay marriage supporters could position them as forward-looking, and cast their opponents as defenders of a fading world view. So far, groups for and against Proposition 8 have raised $55 million between them, apparently a record amount for a social issue. Proposition 8 could also have an effect on the presidential campaign. Both candidates have taken a position on the measure — John McCain in support and Barack Obama opposed — but both are trying to keep it below the radar, preferring to fight for the presidency on other terrain. Conventional wisdom is that Obama will take California, but if Proposition 8 forces the candidates to spend time discussing their positions on gay marriage, it could have a significant if unpredictable effect on the dynamic of the election in other states where the race is projected to be close.
Opinion surveys in August and September show voters inclined to reject the measure by more than a 10-point margin. Since support for ballot propositions tends to drop during the course of the campaign, Proposition 8 appears to be in critical condition.
• Abortion. Abortion is one the most polarizing issues in American politics, but the law has essentially been settled since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1974. With the replacement of liberal with conservative justices, some observers believe a majority of the Supreme Court may be prepared to reverse itself on Roe v. Wade. In order to provide a case that gives the Court an opportunity to rule on this issue, pro-life activists in Colorado and South Dakota have placed measures banning abortion on the ballot. Colorado’s Amendment 48 does not mention abortion, but rather defines a “person” as a human being from the point of fertilization, and would make abortion equivalent to murder. This amendment, which contains no exceptions for rape or the health of the mother, seems too extreme to pass in Colorado.
The more interesting proposition is in South Dakota. In 2006, the state legislature passed a law banning abortion that was challenged by a referendum placed on the ballot by citizen petition. After a heated campaign that attracted interest from pro-choice and pro-life groups across the nation, voters repealed the law by a vote of 44 to 56 percent. One factor contributing to the repeal was the omission of an exception for rape and the health of the mother. Pro-life activists regrouped from that defeat and qualified an initiative for the November ballot that would ban abortion, but this time provides exceptions for rape and the health of the mother. Given the generally conservative reputation of the South Dakota electorate, the prospects for Initiated Measure 11 appear to be reasonable. This campaign will attract a variety of out-of-state organizations, and should attract the national media.
• Civil rights / affirmative action. Race is another divisive issue in American politics, and one that many people, especially political candidates would prefer not to discuss. But initiatives in Colorado and Nebraska may inject race into the national debate. The measures simply say: “The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any group or individual on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public contracting, or public education.” In effect, these measures would ban many affirmative action programs and require outreach to be based on economic circumstances, residence, or other such indicators. Identical measures were approved in California (1996, 55%-45%), Washington (1998, 58%-42%), and Michigan (2006, 58%-42%). In all three campaigns, the initiatives were opposed by leaders of both political parties, and by prominent business and social leaders, yet were passed by large margins. With sizeable victories so far in liberal states, the prospects for these measures in Colorado and Nebraska appears to be good. In addition to the substantive changes in policy these initiatives would bring about in their states, large margins of victory in the face of elite opposition would provide additional evidence that the parties and other opinion leaders are out of step with the voters on this issue. Perhaps as interesting, the measures could force the presidential candidates to engage in a discussion of race, something that neither is likely to welcome, and that could have an unpredictable effect on the presidential campaign. John McCain has endorsed the Arizona measure, and Barack Obama is opposed.