A recent Deseret News article asks, “Will Utah become another California?” It refers to the number of “ballot initiatives” voters have pushed forward in recent years.
Comparing Utah to California
In California, the process for getting voter initiatives on the ballot is relatively easy.
The easy process means nearly any frivolous — or serious — issue can make it on the ballot.
In Utah, a voter initiative must have signatures from 10 percent of voters in at least 26 of Utah’s 29 state senate districts.
In California, it is just 5 percent of voters whose signatures must be gathered.
Despite this high bar to get an issue on the ballot, Utahns put three initiatives on the 2018 ballot: medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion and creating an independent redistricting commission all qualified for the ballot.
All three were approved by the voters.
Dave Noriega doesn’t like the lower bar in California.
“You see this all the time. People come together, they get their signatures, and they try to push something through on the November ballot,” Noriega says.
Debbie Dujanovic believes Californians have spunk.
“I’m not sure that spunk is always a good thing,” Noriega replies.
How can politicians best represent the people?
Dujanovic explains that the initiative process is how the Utah Legislature hears the voice of the people, especially in areas where the Legislature has been ineffective or slow to act.
“It’s not a bad thing. I like it when we get together as a people and we spend time on an issue that we think that is important to us and then we allow other voters to go to the polls and say, ‘Yeah, it’s important to us, too, [or] it’s not important to us. I like that,” Dujanovic says.
Noriega comes to the issue from a different perspective.
He says the way the Utah Legislature hears the voice of the people is through elections.
The initiative process, he argues, is how the people can sound the alarm when an important issue is not being properly addressed by the people’s representatives.
“I like it as a warning. I like to use it as a warning to the legislature to say, ‘you’re not doing your job. You’re not listening to us,'” Noriega opines.
Noriega says a problem with lawmakers being bound to what people vote for in the initiative process is that the people generally do not have sufficient understanding of the law-making process, such as putting the law into practice while maintaining a balanced budget.
“Voting yes on something doesn’t mean it automatically happens and that budgets work and that there is money there for it. Just because you want it doesn’t mean it can necessarily be done in a reasonable manner,” Noriega says.
Dujanovic believes that the people are the bosses of the Utah Legislature. Bosses tell their employees how to do their work. Then, the employees do it.
More to the story
Dujanovic describes how she feels the Legislature has been responding to us, its boss, when we tell the legislators what to do.
“‘Uh, no. We are going to change it all. No, no, no,'” she says.
She adds, “That’s exactly how I feel the Legislature is treating us with this. We have said, ‘We want you to do this. By the way, we want you to do these three things. We listed three things to do because you haven’t taken care of these in the last, oh let’s round it up, twenty years.’ So now the people are going to tell lawmakers what we want. And we did it through a process.”
Noriega says that the initiative process is not meant to subvert the system of our legislature.
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