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Day One of the 2010 Global Forum

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August 1, 2010

By Bailey Ludlam

SAN FRANCISCO, California: The last day in July marked only the first full day of the 2010 Global Direct Democracy Forum. As promised, the first day of the forum was an event jam-packed with speakers and information on initiative and referendum.

First panel of the day tackles the California initiative process

Just prior to opening the forum to a series of panelists and speakers scheduled throughout the day, Paul Jacob, the president of Citizens in Charge Foundation posed one main question to the crowd - "Do you trust the people?"

Democracy, he said, "can be like two wolves and a lamb," noting that people can be wrong when casting their ballots but added that whether people agree or disagree on an issue is besides the point. "If you want a government of and by the people, you might want the people to have a say," highlighting the importance to defend the right to direct democracy.
Krist Novoselic of FairVote.org

Without delay, speakers delved into the nitty-gritty details of California's initiative process. Specifically, panelists addressed the question of whether "the state's process was ruining or saving the state." Initiating the California centered discussion, David Lesher of the Public Policy Institute of California opened with recent research findings about California voters. "Californians have a love hate relationship with the initiative process," he said. According to an opinion poll, 74% of polled California voters said they believe the initiative process highlights important issues not addressed by the California State Legislature. However, 64% said they would change the current initiative process.

The majority of speakers agreed with the notion that the initiative process in California is a good "safety valve" to resolve conflicts, but all noted that some problems must be addressed to improve the process. Some of the addressed problems included: special interest domination of the initiative process, a lack of time to circulate petitions, the need for a second process which would include lower thresholds for the average citizen to qualify an initiative and the need for discussion and deliberation between voters and the state legislature.

Maintaining the theme of initiative reform, Ohio Rep. Jennifer Garrison underscored the struggles faced in the "Buckeye state." Fraud, she said, is alive and well. "We are proud of having citizen initiatives in Ohio because it does give citizens a voice that may not otherwise be heard," but that process, noted Garrison, is taken over by special interests. One of the solutions to the many problems highlighted by the senator, she suggested, is a proposed bill known as the Ohio Ballot Integrity Act.

According to the introduced bill summary, the proposed legislation aims to address: the use of petition circulators convicted of fraud; require that circulators register with the secretary of state; require the notarization of statements; establish a training program for circulators; license petition entities; and introduce new disciplinary action against petition entities for fraud and abuse of the petition process.[1] Rep. Garrison said she expects a vote in the Senate once the legislature reconvenes. The bill passed in the House 75-24 in March 2010.
John Fund of the Wall Street Journal

The representative's proposal, however, fell flat amongst forum attendees according to an informal electronic vote following the discussion. Brandon Holmes of the Citizens in Charge Foundation argued against the proposed reform. From 1999-2008 research, he said, has shown that of every 4.7 million filed signatures, only 1 fraud conviction has been made. Most fraud is not deliberate but accidental. Bills that impose restrictions on residents and the use of paid signatures is not only an infringement on the First Amendment but has little effect on election fraud, said Holmes.

Friday's forum did not only center on reform and problems with the current initiative process. The first day closed at SPUR (San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association) with encouraging remarks on the importance of direct democracy. In an unexpected call, Ralph Nader described the initiative process as "the citizens' ace in the hole" and argued that the initiative and referendum process should be looked as a resource and not as a secondary measure to the representative system in the United States. Even though, he said, corporations learn every years how better to use and gain from the initiative system, it is important to remember that the United States Constitution states "we are the people" and not "we are the corporations."

Nader's remarks were followed by brief speeches by Wall Street Journal's John Fund, Gerald Haefner of European Parliament, and Krist Novoselic, former Nirvana bassist and chair of FairVote.org. "I could have picked a sexier issue than election reform," but emphasized that real reform is developed and accomplished through the initiative and referendum process.

A full downloadable schedule of the July 30-August 4 forum can be found here. Saturday, August 1, will continue the conversation on the initiative process in the United States and include a panel on the media.

For up to the minute reports, make sure to follow the live tweets at #IR2010.

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