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Friday, August 13, 2010

Direct Democracy, Deliberation, and Time

An earlier post mentioned the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy. Journalist Joe Mathews, co-president of the event, writes:

Our Swiss and German guests were particularly adamant in arguing that California would benefit by adding longer time limits at every stage of the process.

To reduce the importance of money in signature gathering, they suggested extending the current five-month time period for gathering signatures to a year or 18 months, which would give volunteer organizations a chance not only to gather signatures but to win support for their idea, building a coalition of groups that could gather signatures.

They also argued for more time between the qualification of a measure and a vote. Right now, we throw measures that qualify at least five months ahead of time onto the next ballot. In other countries, there's often a year or two between qualification and a vote.

Europeans suggested that providing additional time in California might help blunt the impact of TV ads and money. With more time, initiative sponsors (and opponents) with less in financial resources would have more months and more opportunities to do the basic political work of building coalitions, writing Internet columns and newspaper op-eds as a way to set the stage for the vote at the end.

More time would be especially helpful if Californians were to take the advice of forum visitors and build more public deliberation of initiatives and referendums into their system.