Initiatives v Oligarchy

Our Founders' Warning: “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.” (Thomas Jefferson)

Are There Other Nationwide Initiatives Plans?

Differences in Nationwide Initiatives Plans by Senator Gravel’s National Initiative for Democracy and This Plan’s Citizens’ Initiatives Amendment

Conceptual Similarities in Nationwide Initiatives Plan:

  1. Agree on reasons for failures of government-systemic-constitutional
    1. Congress has institutionalized and legalized its excesses.
    2. Congress cannot change its behavior.
  2. Agree on ultimate solution to improve government-initiatives
    1. Only a national initiative process can resolve Congressional abuse of power
  3. People gain the right of initiatives
    1. The people have a right to change their government
  4. Passage is difficult but possible
    1. Politicians and the wealthy elite will oppose change threatening Congressional status quo.
  5. Agree that initiatives qualified by signature petitions are a disaster
    1. Only some form of “grand jury” system can be free from influence
  6. Require a constitutional amendment
    1. The constitution does not include the people’ right of initiative
  7. Dictate enabling actions by government -there must be some kind of facilitation from government
    1. Enabling legislation must be accomplished in the amendment—Congress cannot be trusted

Conceptual Differences:

  1. Ratification
    1. uses ratification by direct election
      1. Direct election can be justified
    2. uses ratification by Article V’s second method
      1. Article V’s second method is specifically intended to control Congressional excesses
    3. These ratification processes can proceed independently and cooperatively
  2. Scope
    1. proposes initiative, referendum, and recall for national, state and local government
    2. limits itself to the national initiatives issue
    3. These scope differences do not preclude cooperation

Disagreements about Nationwide Initiatives Plan Conceptual Approach:

  1. Qualifying initiatives (poll, congress, signature petition v IQA, indirect)
    1. proposes to use a combination of polls, citizen juries and signature petitions to qualify initiatives
    2. proposes a very large jury (IQA) to qualify initiatives
      1. It believes that the IQA approach is virtually incorruptible
      2. IQA approach is cost-effective for populations of five million plus; it does not scale down economically for small communities
    3. Conclusions
  2. Organizational details the citizen jury / IQA
    1. believes that a citizen jury
      1. Can be drawn from those willing to serve
      2. Members should be paid their regular remuneration
    2. believes that an IQA
      1. Must be drafted like a jury, where service is an obligation of citizenship
      2. Members should be egalitarian and paid the same; employers must make up lost income
    3. Conclusions
  3. Appointment of the top initiative management organization (election for Trust v sortation for IQA)
    1. believes that a Trust whose members are elected by each state should manage the system
      1. Appropriate steps can be taken to make the Trust immune from corruption
    2. believes that the IQA can manage itself and the system.
      1. In the long-term, only a randomly-selected body can be immune from corruption
    3. Conclusions

Only two plans are currently available to implement nationwide initiatives in the U.S. Starting in 1972, Presidential candidate Senator Mike Gravel proposed the first. Starting in 2001, this Plan (by Citizens for U.S. Direct Initiatives) is the second. Both would work, have similar objectives, and have many similarities. However, there are four key differences between them, which are the subject of the following discussion.

Note that the authors of this web site admire Senator Gravel’s commitment, courage, and efforts. In fact, the people can concurrently support both plans without contradiction because they propose entirely different methods of enactment. Senator Gravel and associates describe their plan on several web sites (e.g., NI4D, National Initiative, Philadelphia II Vote, Democracy Foundation, and Gravel 2008) and he recently re-published his book entitled Citizen Power. Senator Gravel’s YouTube presentation is available; see Part I: The Democracy Amendment (20-minutes).

Side-by-Side Comparisons

Senator Gravel’s
National Initiative for Democracy (NCID)
Citizens’ Initiatives Amendment
Differences in Scope
Senator Gravel represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1981. He instigated his plan because he understands the way Congress has institutionalized and legalized its excesses. He realized first hand that Congress could not change its abuse of power except by a national initiative process.
In 1972, he presented his ideas in his book “Citizens Power: A People’s Platform”. In 1977, he co-sponsored a Voter Initiative Constitutional Amendment. Congress held hearings. The People’s Lobby headed by Ed and Joyce Koupal made presentations to Congress. However, the bill failed to make it out of committee.Senator Gravel saw the issue of initiatives and referenda as relevant at all levels of government—from global to local. By 1992, the ideas were expressed by two organizations, “Direct Democracy” (originally “One World”) and “Philadelphia II”. They attempted to use state initiatives to further their goals in Missouri, California, and Washington States.This attempt ended with Philadelphia II v Gregoire, where Washington State Supreme Court ruled, “While the goals of the Philadelphia II initiative may be laudable, it is simply not within Washington’s power to enact federal law. Our initiative process establishes a method independent from the Legislature for enacting state laws and cannot be used to enact laws beyond the jurisdiction of the state. Consequently, the Philadelphia II initiative does not fall within the provisions in our state constitution for initiatives.”The wide scope of their plan thus led to complicated legal issues, extensive litigation with appeals up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and delays that limited signature collection. The result was financial exhaustion in 1996. In 2001, the NI4D plan dropped international issues; however, it still includes initiatives and referenda at national, state, and local levels.
This Initiatives Amendment focuses exclusively on the problems of U.S. congressional excesses and deficiencies. The Plan proposes to ameliorate these problems by nationwide initiatives.
In the U.S., referenda are a power of the government. The Plan mentions them only briefly in the Amendment to clarify that, should Congress use them later, they are an equal of initiatives with the latest prevailing.There is no attempt to influence any initiative powers at state and local levels—the Plan considers them under the purview of those jurisdictions.The narrower scope of this Plan enables a state referendum to initiate it in full compliance with state law. If the voters approve the referendum, it returns to the legislature, which formally submits an application for a Convention to propose Amendments to the Congress.Legislatures have taken these actions many times before in all states. There is no attempt to enact any federal law directly; rather only after ratification of the Constitutional Amendment authorizes them.
Differences in Ratification Process
The above experiences with state initiatives prompted Senator Gravel’s group to favor of a direct national election under Article VII. Additionally, Senator Gravel simplified the plan—for example, by dropping international or global elements.
Central to the new plan is the principle of self-enactment. The Philadelphia Convention met in 1787 under auspices of the Congress of the Confederation. Under the Articles of Confederation, Article 16 requires unanimous assent of all 13 states to change any provisions of the Articles. At the time, the existence of the new nation was in danger. The Founding Fathers, coordinating with Congress, took a short cut. The new Constitution mandated that the new government would go into effect when only nine of the 13 states acted affirmatively.The ninth state, New Hampshire, ratified the new Constitution on June 21, 1788. The new Constitution did not receive ratification by the Congress of the Confederation. Instead, Government met under the new Constitution on March 4, 1788 thereby de-facto enacting itself. The U.S. Constitution was born by its own self-enactment in violation of the Articles of Confederation.To best repair the fault, the remaining states eventually complied, the thirteenth state Rhode Island ratifying the Constitution on May 29, 1790. This belatedly met the requirements of the Articles of Confederation. However, the U.S. government governed with questionable authorization for about 27 months. This issue created a precedent for a self-enacting process.The preceding arguments are the basis for the claim that a majority vote of the people can authorize national initiatives under Senator Gravel’s plan. It is currently gathering Internet votes. The procedure is justified in the Parrish Report. Nevertheless, if the votes reach a certifiable majority, many questions remain. E.g., will the federal government accept it as a valid process, will the Supreme Court claim that it is beyond their jurisdiction thereby referring it to Congress, and who will enforce it?
This Initiatives Amendment determined that an Article VII approach would have excessive risks. Even if over half (about 70 million) of the registered voters vote in favor, many challenges to the vote and the legality of the NI4D process could be launched. The challenges might be irresolvable, potentially leading to great controversy. Consequently, this Plan uses the incontrovertibly constitutional Article V Second Method of ratification.
Rough estimates of the campaign costs showed that if the people try to push this Amendment through reluctant state legislators using voting pressure and initiatives in initiative states, the campaign costs would total between $250 and $500 million.On the other hand, analysis showed that state Legislatures have profound constitutional obligations to support nationwide initiatives in order to protect their people. Moreover, in view of the people’s intense frustration with Congress, state politicians who support the Amendment will gain great voter approval. If State Legislatures can support the Amendment, the campaign costs would be nominal—e.g., under $10 million. This is the current approach taken in this Plan.
Differences in Method of Qualifying Initiatives
Senator Gravel’s plan adopts the Oregon System of popular signature petitions to qualify initiatives. In the U.S., most initiative states use this approach, which is similar to the Swiss initiative process.
Though the Oregon System has been widely used, it is more a case of re-adopting what is simple and easy rather than making the effort to develop the best system.Several major defects have become apparent in state initiatives under the Oregon System. Special interests often write the initiatives. Once the sponsors privately write that initiative and the state approves its legal form, the People cannot affect the wording. Special interests can pay signature gathers to get the signatures needed to qualify the initiative. The signature process becomes very expensive at a nationwide level. There is no way to decide which initiatives are important so all must go on the ballot, which at a nationwide level will lead to voter overload. Note that voter turnout in Switzerland has declined, probably in part because of initiative-generated voter fatigue.
This Initiatives Amendment offers an initiative qualification system that the citizens used in ancient Athens, the cradle of democracy, for 180 years. Selection and qualification is the responsibility of a randomly selected Assembly of citizens eligible to vote.
This approach has several advantages. The Assembly will be more tamper proof than a Federal Grand Jury and virtually immune from special interests’ influence. It costs less than signature petitions. It permits citizens’ feedback on proposed initiatives for many months before the Assembly makes the decision whether to qualify them or not. It operates completely independent of government. It ensures that ballot initiatives are important, well constructed, and thoroughly vetted. It offers independent majority and minority opinions on the initiatives. It ensures that the electorate is not overloaded.Obviously, someone must reuse this approach in practice to check or change the details long before the Convention finalizes the Amendment. One or more states are the obvious candidates, replacing their signature petition system by a state citizens’ initiatives assembly. A candidate state should do this as soon as it is certain that a few states will submit or have submitted their Convention applications to Congress.
Differences in Management of the Initiative Process
Senator Gravel’s Amendment creates a U.S. Electoral Trust as an independent agency to administer the initiative system. The citizens of each state will elect one member of the Board of Directors of the Trust managing the initiative process.
This approach will keep federal government from having a direct influence on the Trust. However, this approach is subject to special interests’ influence in the campaign and election process. Eventually, their special interests’ influence might well mirror that experienced in congressional elections.
This Initiatives Amendment’s approach is to use the Citizens’ Initiative Assembly to manage the initiative process without external interference. A randomly selected citizens group is our only know method of preventing external influence.
The Assembly will hire experts to help with complex or demanding jobs, but will have no permanent staff that could exert influence on the Assembly. Recently, various applications of Citizens’ Assemblies have validated their capabilities. For the U.S. Citizens’ Initiatives Assembly, its relatively large size (480 members) will ensure that a wide range of skills and management talent will prove more than adequate to the task.