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Winter 1986

Debates
President's Notes (Anne Lee)
Fundraising Results
State Council
LWVUS Convention 1986
Ten Common Myths about Initiative
Security '76 Conference
Last Chance for Akamai Strategist
New State Board Member
Problems in Signature Gathering (Marian Wilkins)
Election Law Study Consensus
Program and Action
League Local News - Honolulu
League Local News - Hawaii County
League Local News - Kauai
League Local News - League Members on Maui
Ed Fund News
Coastweek '86
Bye Bye Herman
Anne Lee

Ten Common Myths about Initiative

We have all heard many sweeping statement in opposition to Initiative. Some make Initiative sound so bad, you wonder why LWV/Hawaii supports it. You wonder how the 23 states with Initiative have managed to survive. Since it has been some time since the League study was done, it was felt that the following information on Initiative would be helpful to League members.

The information has been excerpted from the June 14, 1985 issue of Initiative News Report edited by David D. Schmidt. He states; "I began to study the history of the initiative process nationwide, and to keep records of initiative campaigns in progress. . . . Over the last, five years, my research and that of others has shown many of the unproven generalizations I heard in the late 1970's to be mistaken. Yet despite the fact that the truth of these matters is now avail-able, certain of these errors seem to some back from the dead more often than Count Dracula."

Schmidt debunks 10 common myths about the initiative process as follows:

MYTH 1: INITIATIVES ARE "POORLY WRITTEN" AND "OFTEN UNCONSTITUTIONAL"

FACT: To win voter approval, initiatives must be carefully drafted as any flaw provides to opposition with a campaign issue. The care with which sponsors draft their initiatives is reflected in the fact that of the 40 state-level initiatives passed by voters in 1980-1982, only two have been ruled unconstitutional, and a third unconstitutional in part.
 

MYTH 2: THE SIDE THAT SPENDS THE MOST MONEY WINS

FACT: I compiled the most exhaustive statistical study on initiative campaign spending ever published; which utilized all financial disclosure information available for the years 1976 to 1984. Of the 189 initiative campaigns covered in this study, spending could be judged the decisive factor in the outcome of only 23 --approximately one-eighth of the total.
 

MYTH 3: THE INITIATIVE PROCESS SERVES "SPECIAL INTERESTS" OR THE "NEW RIGHT" OR "THE LEFT."

FACT: The initiative, alone among governmental decision-making processes, unfailingly put the public interest first by letting the people decide their own interests. The grassroots nature of the initiative process is illustrated by the fact that nation-wide, two-thirds of all initiatives on state ballots in the years 1980-1984 were petitioned to the ballot solely through volunteer effort. The non-partisan nature of the initiative process is shown by my finding that liberal and conservative initiative sponsors have about the same success rate both in getting initiatives on ballots, and in securing voter approval. In the years 1977 to 1984 liberal-leaning groups secured ballot placement for 79 state-level initiatives, and voters approved 44% of them. During the same period, conservative-oriented groups put 74 initiatives on state ballots and voters passed 45% of them.
 

MYTH 4: INITIATIVES ENHANCE "MINORITY RULE" BECAUSE MANY PEOPLE DON'T VOTE ON THEM.

FACT: In the general elections of 1976, 1978, 1980, and 1982, the pro-portion of people voting on statewide initiatives average 93% of the total casting ballots for the highest office in that election (governor, U.S. Senator, president). There is also strong circumstantial evidence that initiatives raise voter turnout. A voter turnout study published in 1985 showed that turnout was consistently higher in states with initiatives on ballots than in states without. This effect was dramatic in non-presidential election years, but occurred in presidential election years as well -- despite the fact that early projections of the winners were decreasing turnouts in the West, which included most of the states with initiatives on the ballots!
 

MYTH 5: VOTER-INITIATED MEASURES CAUSE "BALLOT CLUTTER."

FACT: During the past decade, which has been a period of relatively high use of the petition process to put Initiative and Referendum measures on the ballot, the average number of such measures on a single ballot in the 23 states has been just two. . . . California's "Proposition 13" was the only initiative on the ballot in that state's June 1978 primary. The other 12 measures were constitutional amendments and bond issues put on the ballot by the legislature.
 

MYTH 6: THE INITIATIVE PROCESS IS "TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY."

FACT: "Tyranny" is defined as "rule of a sovereign unrestricted by law or constitution." Since even constitutional initiatives are subject to judicial review and must conform to the federal Constitution, initiatives can no more be equated with "tyranny" than enactments of the legislature, which are subject to similar restrictions.
 

MYTH 7: IF THE PEOPLE CAN MAKE LAWS, THERE IS NO NEED FOR A LEGISLATURE.

FACT: There are 23 states with constitutional provisions for the initiative process, and in each one there still remains a legislature which passes hundreds of bills each session. The voters, through the initiative process, pass an average of less than one bill per election per state.
 

MYTH 8: CITIZENS SELFISHLY "VOTE THEIR POCKETBOOKS."

FACT: The voters deserve credit for rejecting initiatives to substantially cut their own taxes in 16 out of 19 (84%) of such campaigns in 1978 to 1984. Even in California, where voters approved "Proposition 13," they rejected four other major tax cut initiatives on their state ballot in the years 1968-1984.
 

MYTH 9: TAX CUT INITIATIVES HAVE BEEN DISASTROUS FOR CALIFORNIA AND MASSACHUSETTS.

FACT: Since the passage of California's "Proposition 13" in 1978 and Massachusetts' "Proposition 2½" in 1980, these two states have been among the nation's most prosperous. In California, in the year following Proposition 13's passage, public sector employment decreased less than 1%. By 1980, the number of government jobs had rebounded to pre-Proposition 13 levels, and it has continued growing since then. While some government services have been cut back or had user fees imposed, the overall level of government services in both states remains above national averages.
 

MYTH 10: THE PEOPLE ARE TOO UNINFORMED TO VOTE ON MANY SUBJECTS.

FACT: Thomas Jefferson said: "I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take the power from them, but to inform them by education." Jefferson said these words in 1820, and a century later the nation had achieved nearly universal literacy and widespread secondary education. Progressive reformers in the early 1900's judged that this level of education was sufficient to enable citizens to participate intelligently in lawmaking through the initiative process.

The full text of this issue of Initiative News Report may be obtained at the League office or by contacting Marian Wilkins. Also available are other very interesting and informative issues of the publication, plus copies of the LWV study, "Initiative and Referendum."

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