Ballot Initiative Reform: Coming Together for a Better California

For over a century, Californians have been exercising direct democracy by petitioning for ballot initiatives. This practice began as a way for citizens to work around legislatures that were heavily influenced by bribes and corporate interests. Now, 100 years later, the process has confused citizens and led to a system dominated by big money, TV attack ads and slick campaign mailers. In 2012, over $427 million was spent to defeat or approve the 11 ballot measures facing California voters. In addition to the problems of big money and voter confusion and fatigue, the current process has lead to ballot box budgeting causing structural crisis in the state budget as increasing parts of the state budget are locked into designated spending without consideration of the impact on the whole budget.

California Calls, California Common Cause, and the California Business Roundtable are leading an effort to explore possible ways to address the above problems and improve the ballot initiative process in California. This is an experiment to see if a diverse group of organizations from across the political spectrum can come to agreement on a set of reforms to improve the ballot initiatives process. The three organizations have convened a broad array of organizations including labor unions, social justice organizations, civic rights groups, good government advocates, business and tax payer associations in a series of exploratory meetings to develop a list of broadly agreed on potential ballot initiative reforms. The process has also included interviews and meetings with a broad range of organizations and policy makers, and research to assess past and current ballot initiative reform efforts in California and across the country.

Over the past five months a preliminary set of reforms have been identified that have broad agreement and other reform ideas continue to be explored and debated. Next steps in the process include additional meetings to get feedback and input from stakeholder groups, polling to assess voter attitudes on possible reforms, and an assessment of which reforms have sufficiently broad agreement to move forward with.

California Calls seeks solutions that reflect our fundamental commitment to government accountability and transparency, increased power and participation for communities often locked out of the process, and processes that promote clear and well-researched initiative proposals that will have enduring value for communities of color, low income, working and middle-class Californians.