Assembly Bill 1451 is an Attack on Direct Democracy

The tools of direct democracy — initiative, referendum and recall — are a powerful check against intransigent or corrupt politicians. These powers are enshrined in the California Constitution for reasons that are just as compelling in 2019 as they were in 1911. That’s when Governor Hiram Johnson, seeking to constrain the absolute control the railroads had over the state Capitol, pushed to give ordinary citizens a “legislative battering ram” — using the language of the Supreme Court — to address issues that for whatever reason the legislature refuses to address.

Political elites abhor direct democracy. From their perspective it allows the great unwashed and unsophisticated to deal with matters such as taxation, victims’ rights, insurance and most importantly political reform. These are issues over which politicians strongly desire to exercise a legislative monopoly. The latest assault on Californians’ rights to initiative and referendum is Assembly Bill 1451, introduced by Asm. Evan Low, D-Campbell, which has already cleared both houses of the California Legislature. Gov. Newsom should veto it.

AB1451 erects roadblocks to initiative qualification by requiring that at least 10 percent of the petition signatures come from unpaid sources and also by banning paid signature gathering on a per-signature basis. While backers claim that this will reduce fraud, this justification doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

According to the Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit, between 1994 and 2010, the EFIU opened 240 cases for falsifying petitions, of which 46 were sent to district attorneys for prosecution, resulting in less than 35 convictions. During that same timeframe, over 100 initiatives were placed on the ballot requiring tens of millions of signatures.

Supporters also argue that eliminating paid-per-signature gathering and moving to compensation based on an hourly rate will help decrease money in politics. The opposite is true. By removing the financial incentive to collect signatures in the most efficient manner possible, the initiative process will further be skewed to special interests. …

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