Should Minnesota give citizens the ability to put measures on the ballot?

Is it time to let Minnesotans decide what constitutional amendments end up on the ballot?

Today, a bill was filed in the Minnesota House that would — if approved by voters — allow citizens to put measures on the ballot if they get enough signatures. It comes from Rep. King Banaian, R- St. Cloud, who also filed a bill a few weeks ago to make it harder for lawmakers to put constitutional amendments on the ballot.

The notion is known as “initiative and referendum.” The challenge for its supporters is explaining how it works.

Under the bill, a proposed law could be put to the voters if supporters get signatures from each congressional district, totaling at least 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in the previous election.

The system could also be used to repeal a law via the same means. But if the law hasn’t gone into effect yet, it is suspended until voters get a chance to decide whether it should.

And amendment to the Minnesota constitution would require signatures totaling 8 percent of the previous gubernatorial election.

No more than three “laws” could be proposed on any ballot, a governor can’t veto a law voters approve, and a new law would take effect 30 days after the election.

The system exists in Washington state, where the governor recently signed a same-sex marriage bill. An opposition group immediately announced it intended to more than 120,577 voter signatures by June 6th to put the issue on November’s ballot.

  • Matt

    Wow, it’s worked so well for California…

  • Disco

    Absolutely not.

    Look at California. Look at how ridiculously ungovernable that state has become. Prop 13 in 1978 made it impossible to raise property taxes no matter what. That alone has contributed greatly to the state’s budget deficit.

    History is filled with garbage that citizens in California have proposed (Prop 8 anyone?) and it’s proven to be an awful system.

    Furthermore, it does surprise me in the least that a Republican would propose it. The GOP loves wedge issues, and that’s pretty much the only type of issue that winds up as a proposition.

  • Greg

    This is one of those ideas that people think they want, but it really leads to poor governance.

  • kennedy

    Might as well go all the way. Eliminate all elected representatives and make law according to public opinion polls.

    Bad idea.

  • Kassie

    I really like the part where it has to be implemented within 30 days. So impractical.

    I could get the signatures and votes together for a law that says, “The State of Minnesota will have one single log on for all accounts across all agencies.” It would have a lot of popular support, I think. It would be good policy. It would be absolutely impossible to implement in 30 days. I’d be that would take two years or more.

    Lawmakers have a hard time estimating how long something will take. They also like to pass laws that conflict what we are required by Federal law to do. And they are paid to be lawmakers. Average citizens have no idea what sorts of time and resources things take. That’s why we elect people to do it for us.

  • G Decker

    I so agree with Disco’s comment. California’s experience with initiative and referendum scares me. Another of their success stories is “Three strikes and you’re out” which requires prison for a third felony. This has led to huge and dangerous overcrowding of California’s prisons, not to mention another massively expensive drain on the state’s budget.

    Another problem with initiative and referendum is that the proposals don’t have to consider the budget impact at all. They don’t have to say how the proposal should be paid for or what should be dropped in order to pay for this new thing. Nor do proposers have to weigh their single proposal in light of all other demands for state resources. This is incredibly irresponsible. The sifting and weighing of entire budgets is what we elect lawmakers to do. If they do it badly, we should replace them. But we should not set up a system where it is not done at all.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Beware the tyranny of the majority.

  • John O.

    I really liked the section of the bill under “prohibitions:” At the top it says “No person MAY (emphasis added):

    (7) publish or broadcast any information regarding a ballot measure with knowledge that it is false and that tends to substantially affect adoption or rejection of the measure when the publication or broadcast is undertaken primarily for the purpose of influencing adoption or rejection;

    Who determines what is “true” versus “false” with respect to “information”? How does one define “substantially affect?”

    The use of the word “may” versus “shall” in the context of the bill should also serve as a big red flag.

  • Doctor Gonzo

    No. No no no no no no no.

  • Joanna

    Please, no. I’m from California, and it breaks my heart to see the damage done by Prop 13 and other pseudo-populist measures that benefit corporations more than citizens, or enshrine prejudice.

  • JackU

    No more than three “laws” could be proposed on any ballot

    Actually many more than three can be on a given ballot. The portion of the bill that mentions only 3 laws on any state general election ballot is this:

    2.18 The legislature may, by a law enacted under the other provisions of this article, refer

    2.19 a law to a vote of the people. No more than three laws may be referred by the legislature

    2.20 to a vote of the people at the same state general election.

    My reading of this is that the legislature can only bypass the governor on three laws they know he will veto. Initiatives by petition appear to be allowed to as many as fulfill the requirements to get on the ballot.

    I’ll echo the comments about California. My sister lives out there and it is common to receive in the mail before election day a substantial booklet that details all of the ballot measures. Also in the era of smaller government and cost cutting has anyone projected the increased costs of processing the petitions, informing the voters and the increased size of the ballot due to having the measures printed on the ballot. Then of course there is the increased time to move people through the polling place as they consider and vote on all these measures.

  • David

    As others have noted California is a great example of this gone wrong, but …. our lawmakers are a great example of a need for this type of action.

    Especially in the repeal category.