California Proposition 7, the Initiative & Referendum Amendment (October 1911)

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Proposition 7, the Initiative & Referendum Amendment, was on the October 10, 1911 ballot in California. It was a proposal to amend the California Constitution to incorporate the right of ballot initiative, and it was approved.[1]

Proposition 7 was placed on the ballot by state legislators who "had been swept in" in the 1910 election that included the election of Hiram Johnson as Governor of California.[2]

The enactment of Proposition 7 was described in the Los Angeles Times as a vote "that thrust from power the Captains of Greed."[2]

When California voters approved Proposition 7, California became the country's 10th state to authorize its voters to initiate legislation through direct democracy.[3]

Election results

Proposition 7
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 168,744 76.41%
No52,09323.59%

Constitutional changes

California Constitution
Articles
IIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXXAXBXIXIIXIIIXIII AXIII BXIII CXIII DXIVXVXVIXVIIIXIXXIX AXIX BXIX CXXXXIXXIIXXXIVXXXV

Proposition 7 amended Section 1 of Article IV of the California Constitution.

What Section 1 of Article IV said before it was amended by Proposition 7 was:

The legislative power of this state shall be vested in a senate and assembly, which shall be designated The legislature of the State of California, and the enacting clause of every law shall be as follows: "The People of the State of California, represented in senate and assembly, do enact as follows.

Proposition 7 proposed that the amended text of Section 1 say:

The legislative power of this state shall be vested in a senate and assembly which shall be designated "The legislature of the State of California," but the people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and amendments to the constitution, and to adopt or reject the same, at the polls independent of the legislature, and also reserve the power, at their own option, to so adopt or reject any act, or section or part of any act, passed by the legislature. The enacting clause of every law shall be "The people of the State of California do enact as follows:."

The first power reserved to the people shall be known as the initiative. Upon the presentation to the secretary of state of a petition certified as herein provided to have been signed by qualified electors, equal in number to eight per cent of all the votes cast for all candidates for governor at the last preceding general election, at which a governor was elected, proposing a law or amendment to the constitution, set forth in full in said petition, the secretary of state shall submit the said proposed law or amendment to the constitution to the electors at the next succeeding general election occurring subsequent to ninety days after the presentation aforesaid of said petition, or at any special election called by the governor in his discretion prior to such general election. All such initiative petitions shall have printed across the top thereof in twelve point black-face type the following: "Initiative measure to be submitted directly to the electors."

Upon the presentation to the secretary of state, at any time not less than ten days before the commencement of any regular session of the legislature, of a petition certified as herein provided to have been signed by qualified electors of the state equal in number to five per cent of all the votes cast for all candidates for governor at the last preceding general election, at which a governor was elected, proposing a law set forth in full in said petition, the secretary of state shall transmit the same to the legislature, within forty days from the time the legislature it shall be subject to referendum, as hereinafter provided. If any law so petitioned for be rejected, or if no action taken upon it by the legislature within said forty days, the secretary of state shall submit it to the people for approval or rejection at the next ensuing general election. The legislature may reject any measure so proposed by initiative petition and propose a different one on the same subject by a yea and nay vote upon separate roll call, and in such event both measures shall be submitted by the secretary of state to the electors for approval or rejection at the next ensuing general election or at a prior special election called by the governor, in his discretion, for such purpose. All said initiative petitions last above described shall have printed in twelve point black-face type the following: "Initiative measure to be presented to the legislature."

The second power reserved to the people shall be known as the referendum. No act passed by the legislature shall go into effect until ninety days after the final adjournment of the session of the legislature which passed such act, except acts calling elections, acts providing for tax levies or appropriations for the usual current expenses of the state, and urgency measures necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, passed by a two-thirds vote of all the members elected to each house. Whenever it is deemed necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety that a law shall go into immediate effect, a statement of the facts constituting such necessity shall be set forth in one section of the act, which section shall be passed only upon a yea and nay vote, upon a separate roll call thereon; provided, however, that no measure creating or abolishing any office or changing the salary, term or duties of any officer, or granting any franchise or special privilege, or creating any vested right or interest, shall be construed to be an urgency measure. Any law so passed by the legislature and declared to be an urgency measure shall go into immediate effect.

Upon the presentation to the secretary of state within ninety days after the final adjournment of the legislature of a petition certified as herein provided, to have been signed by qualified electors equal in number to five per cent of all the votes cast for all candidates for governor at the last preceding general election at which a governor was elected, asking that any act or section or part of any act of the legislature, be submitted to the electors for their approval or rejection, the secretary of state shall submit to the electors for their approval or rejection, such act, or section or part of such act, at the next succeeding general election occurring at any time subsequent to thirty days after the filing of said petition or at any special election which may be called by the governor, in his discretion, prior to such regular election, and no such act or section or part of such act shall go into effect until and unless approved by a majority of the qualified electors voting thereon; but if a referendum petition is filed against any section or part of any act the remainder of such act shall not be delayed from going into effect.

Any act, law or amendment to the constitution submitted to the people by either initiative or referendum petition and approved by a majority of the votes case thereon, at any election, shall take effect five days after the date fo the official declaration of the vote by the secretary of state. No act, law or amendment to the constitution, initiated or adopted by the people, shall be subject to the veto power fo the governor, and no act, law or amendment to the constitution, initiated or adopted by the people at the polls under the initiative provisions of this section, shall be amended or repealed except by a vote of the electors, unless otherwise provided in said initiative measure; but acts and laws adopted by the people under the referendum provisions of this section may be amended by the legislature at any subsequent session thereof. If any provision or provisions of two or more measures, approved by the electors at the same election, conflict, the provision or provisions of the measure receiving the highest affirmative vote shall prevail. Until otherwise provided by law, all measures submitted to a vote of the electors, under the provisions of this section, shall be printed, and together with arguments for and against each such measure by the proponents and opponents thereof, shall be mailed to each elector in the same manner as now provided by law as to amendments to the constitution, proposed by the legislature; and the persons to prepare and present such argument shall, until otherwise provided by law, be selected by the presiding officer of the senate.

If for any reason any initiative or referendum measure, proposed by petition as herein provided, be not submitted at the election specified in this section, such failure shall not prevent its submission at a succeeding general election, and no law or amendment to the constitution, proposed by the legislature, shall be submitted at any election unless at the same election there shall be submitted all measures proposed by petition of the electors, if any be so proposed, as herein provided.

Any initiative or referendum petition may be presented in sections, but each section shall contain a full and correct copy of the title and text of the proposed measure. Each signer shall add to his signature his place of residence, giving the street and number if such exist. His election precinct shall also appear on the paper after his name. The number of signatures attached to each section shall be at the pleasure of the person soliciting signatures to the same. Any qualified elector of the state shall be competent to solicit said signatures within the county or city and county of which he is an elector. Each section of the petition shall bear the name of the county or city and county in which it is circulated, and only qualified electors of such county or city and county shall be competent to sign such section. Each section shall have attached thereto the affidavit of the person soliciting signatures to the same, stating his own qualifications and that all the signatures to the attached section were made in his presence and that to the best of his knowledge and belief each signature to the section is the genuine signature of the person whose name it purports to be, and no other affidavit thereto shall be required. The affidavit of any person soliciting signatures hereunder shall be verified free of charge by any officer authorized to administer oaths. Such petitions so verified shall be prima facie evidence that the signatures thereon are genuine and that the persons signing the same are qualified electors. Unless and until it be otherwise proven upon official investigation. It shall be presumed that the petition presented contains the signatures of the requisite number of qualified electors.

Each section of the petition shall be filed with the clerk or registrar of voters of the county or city and county in which it was circulated, but all said sections circulated in any county or city and county shall be filed at the same time. Within twenty days after the filling of such petition in this office the said clerk, or registrar of voters, shall determine from the records of registration what number of qualified electors have signed the same, and if necessary the board fo supervisors shall allow said clerk or registrar additional assistants for the purpose of examining such petition and provide for their compensation. The said clerk or registrar, upon the completion of such examination, shall forthwith attach to said petition, except the signatures thereto appended, his certificate, properly dated, showing the result of said examination and shall forthwith transmit said petition, together with his said certificate, to the secretary of state and also file a copy of said certificate in his office. Within forty days from the transmission of said petition and certificate by the clerk or registrar to the secretary of state, a supplemental petition identical with the original as to the body fo the petition but containing supplemental names, may be filed with the clerk or registrar of voters, as aforesaid. The clerk or registrar of voters shall within ten days after the filing of such supplemental petition make like examination thereof, as the original petition, and upon the completion of such examination shall forthwith attach to said petition his certificate, properly dated, showing the result of said examination, and shall forthwith transmit a copy of said supplemental petition, except the signatures thereto appended, together with his certificate, to the secretary of state.

When the secretary of state shall have received from one or more county clerks or registrars of voters a petition certified as herein provided to have been signed by the requisite number of qualified electors, he shall forthwith transmit to the county clerk or registrar of voters of every county or city and county in the state his certificate showing such fact. A petition shall be deemed to be filed with the secretary of state upon the date of the receipt by him of a certificate or certificates showing said petition to be signed by the requisite number of electors of the state. Any county clerk or registrar of voters shall, upon receipt of such copy, file the same for record in his office. The duties herein imposed upon the clerk or registrar of voters shall be performed by such registrar of voters in all cases where the office of registrar of voters exists.

The initiative and referendum powers of the people are hereby further reserved to the electors of each county, city and county, city and town of the state, to be exercised under such procedure as may be provided by law. Until otherwise provided by law, the legislative body of any such county, city and county, city or town may provide for the manner of exercising the initiative and referendum powers herein reserved to such counties, cities and counties, cities and towns, and shall not require more than fifteen per cent of the electors thereof to propose any initiative measure nor more than ten per cent of the electors thereof to order the referendum. Nothing contained in this section shall be construed as affecting or limiting the present or future powers of cities or cities and counties having charters adopted under the provisions of section eight or article eleven of this constitution. In the submission to the electors of any measure under this section, all officers shall be guided by the general laws of this state, except as is herein otherwise provided. This section is self- executing, but legislation may be enacted to facilitate its operation, but in no way limiting or restricting either the provisions of this section or the powers herein reserved.

Support

Supporters

Lee C. Gates, a state senator representing the 34th District, and William C. Clark, a state assemblyman representing the 50th District, signed the official ballot arguments in favor of Proposition 7.

Arguments in favor

In the official voter guide, Gates and Clark made these arguments:

  • "It will give the people power to control legislation of the state, and make it to represent what the law should always reflect, the will and wish of the people.
  • "The initiative will reserve to the people the power to propose and to enact laws which the legislature may have refused or neglected to enact, and to themselves propose constitutional amendments for adoption.
  • "The referendum will reserve to the people the power to pass judgment upon the acts of the legislature, and to prevent objectionable measures taking effect. In short, will enable the people to enact laws, or amend the constitution, and veto vicious or unsatisfactory laws enacted by the legislature. The first step toward good government is the making of good laws. This amendment will give the people power to make good laws or compel the legislature to do so.
  • "The initiative. Electors equal to eight per cent of the total vote for governor, at the last general election, may, by petition, propose and cause a statute or constitutional amendment to be submitted to the people, for their approval or rejection, at the next general election, or at a special election, to be called by the governor in his discretion; while electors equal to five per cent of said vote for governor can require a proposed statute to be submitted to the legislature, and if the legislature does not enact such statute, then to the people. In this case, however, the legislature has the privilege of submitting to the people, at the same time, a different or amended measure on the same subject. No initiative measure is subject to the governor's veto, nor, when adopted, can it be amended or repealed except by the people, unless the measure itself shall differently provide. If a conflict arise between provisions adopted and approved by the electors at the same election, that receiving the highest vote shall prevail.
  • "The referendum. Electors equal to five per cent of the total vote cast for governor at the last preceding election, by petition filed within ninety days after the adjournment of the legislature, may require any act of the legislature (except those calling elections, providing for tax levies and urgency measures declared therein to be such, and passed by a two- thirds vote of both houses) to be submitted to the people for their approval or rejection at the next general election, or a special election to be called by the governor at his discretion; thus giving to the people the power to arrest, and prevent the taking effect, of vicious or objectionable acts of the legislature.
  • "Advantages of the initiative. The legislators knowing that people can ultimately express their will in law, without the aid of the legislature, will actively endeavor to ascertain the will of the majority of the people, rather than of some faction, and to do that will. It will give men who think differently on general party affair, but who agree upon a particular measure, the chance to vote upon such measure. It will enable electors to vote for a measure although it be opposed by their candidate, and at the same time for such candidate if they believe him to be right upon other issues. Each measure will be considered more upon its own merits by the legislature, it knowing that unless such measure merits approval it can be held up by the electorate.
  • "Advantages of the referendum. It will be unsafe and profitless for legislators to bargain with private interests, or to violate the people's rights; because the people have the power of ratification or rejection. It will prove a safeguard against the "silent scheming of the crafty few," and at the same time serve as a safeguard against the enactment of laws noisily demanded by a mere faction. It will be effective against mob rule (the violent few) and against machine rule (the wire-pulling few). Honest business will not have to bribe a legislature to get a square deal. Dishonest business will not be able to "influence" a legislature and get more than a square deal, for the final decision will be in the hands of the people. Washington's words of wisdom still hold true, "The people will always be nearer right than those who have a selfish interest in controlling them." In the last analysis the thing upon which we may finally depend, under our form of government, is the judgment of the people. These amendments are not opposed to our form of government, not opposed to the ideals of the fathers of the republic, and are not contrary to the spirit fo our institutions. Exactly the opposite is true. The town meeting of New England trained our fathers in the principles of self-government. From that training sprang full fledged the idea of self-government. That self-government is the spirit and essence of our institutions and the basis of all our law in state and nation. The people realized that they were, and have made themselves the source and foundation of power. They created our form of government. They created our constitutions. They are the creators of legislatures. They are the employers, and they must be clothed with the power to issue commands, to exact obedience and to negative and nullify the acts of their agents and servant, if the violate the wish or the will of their employers or the spirit of their employment.
  • "The initiative and referendum not new. The initiative and referendum are not untried experiments. Switzerland, admittedly one of the best, if not the best governed country of the world, has had it for nearly fifty years. At least eight states of our own country, beginning in 1902, have made the initiative and referendum an integral part of their framework of government. In California many cities have already adopted it. Los Angeles has had it since 1903. San Francisco and Oakland incorporated it into their charters last year. Berkeley and San Diego and other cities had done so prior to that time, while counties and cities of the fifth and sixth classes were given such powers by the legislature at its last session. The procedure for amending our state constitution by submitting the same to a vote of the people is one of the oldest and highest forms of the referendum.
  • "Its opponents. One of the strongest arguments in its favor is the character of many of those who oppose it. Opposing it will be found without exception the servants of special interests, and those who profit through special legislation. Added to these are those who may be termed our "Political Aristocrats," who distrust and scoff at the people; who are accustomed to sneer at self-government as "The rule of the Mob," or "the Tyranny or Majorities."
  • "Objections. Objection has been made that these powers would deprive the legislature of its functions. To refute this it is but necessary to remark that at the recent session of the legislature 2,877 bills were introducted, that 956 of these passed both houses, and that 753 became laws. How utterly absurd, therefore, to think that the activity of the legislature thus evidenced could be duplicated by the people in their collective capacity.
  • "It is not intended and will not be a substitute for legislation, but will constitute that safeguard which the people should retain for themselves, to supplement the work of the legislature by initiating those measures which the legislature either viciously or negligently fails or refuses to enact; and to hold the legislature in check, and veto or negative such measures as it may viciously or negligently enact. All objections finally and ultimately center in a distrust of democracy; in a challenge of the power of the people to govern themselves. The voters are to decide by the adoption, or rejection, of this amendment to the constitution, as to whether self-government is a success or failure; as to whether people believe in themselves. It is the step which brings legislation to the threshold of the individual and clothes him with the power to secure good laws by control over legislators and legislatures.
  • "Are the people capable of self-government? If they are, this amendment should be adopted. If they are not, this amendment should be defeated.

Opposition

Opponents

Opponents included Leroy Wright, who was at the time a member of the California State Senate. He said Proposition 7 was "so radical as to be almost revolutionary in its character. Its tendency is to change the republican form of our government and head it towards democracy, and history teaches that democracies have universally ended in turbulence and disaster."[2]

Arguments against

In the official voter guide, Wright made these arguments:

  • "The "proposed initiative and referendum" amendment is, perhaps, the most important one submitted to the vote of the people by the last legislature. It should have the most earnest consideration of every voter, for it is so radical as to be almost revolutionary in its character. Its tendency is to change the republican form of our government and head it towards democracy, and history teaches that democracies have universally ended in turbulence and disaster.
  • "The question for the voter to determine is whether legislation should be accomplished by means of representative chosen by the people or by the people themselves. As our commercial and economic relations grow more complex, beneficial legislation becomes a more difficult problem. It may be easy to determine what the effect of a given law will be upon a certain trade of a particular community, but its ramifications often extend beyond the vision of the wisest. Well-meaning laws not infrequently bring about results not contemplated. Thus, section 4 of article XIII of the state constitution of 1879 provided for the assessment of mortgages, trust deeds, etc. The avowed purpose was to make the lender pay the mortgage tax.
  • "Section 5 of the same article of the constitution made every contract by which a debtor was obliged to pay the tax null and void. The practical working of these provisions is well known to every borrower. Whatever the prevailing rate of interest the lender invariably demanded an additional three or four per cent to cover the tax. For years it was realized that this constitutional provision was working a hardship upon the borrowing public which always greatly outnumbers the loaning public. Several attempts were made by the legislature to submit an amendment repealing this provision of the constitution. In 1907 such an amendment was submitted to the people and defeated at the polls by an overwhelming majority. In 1909 the repeal of this amendment was again submitted and carried in the November election of 1910. It was only after years of agitation, however, that this constitutional blunder was wiped out.
  • "California has the referendum on all constitutional amendments. A study of the vote on constitutional amendments which have been submitted to the people is not reassuring to advocates of the initiative and referendum. At the last general election twelve amendments were submitted to the voters of this state, and while 385,613 votes were cast for governor at that election, the average vote for constitutional amendments was about 189,000. In round numbers, 200,000 voters in this state expressed a choice for governor, but did not have sufficient conviction on the merits of the constitutional amendments to warrant them in voting for or against these proposed organic laws. More than one half of the qualified voters of the state refrained from voting upon these constitutional amendments, and they were adopted or rejected by less than 50 per cent of the electors qualified to vote. It is conservative to say that 95 per cent of those who voted on the proposed amendments made no original research on the questions involved. In cities and towns it was the general rule for the voter to ask some one whom he supposed to be better informed than himself to mark a sample ballot on the amendments submitted.
  • "The writer knows one lawyer who marked as many as fifty sample ballots, and, in this instance, one person practically voted fifty times on each constitutional amendment. The initiative and referendum, therefore, do not express the conviction and judgment of a majority of the voters.
  • "I suggest to each voter the serious consideration of the following propositions before reaching a final conclusion as to the merits or demerits of the initiative and referendum amendment:
  • "(a) The right of our courts to pass upon the constitutionality of all statutes is firmly established by necessary inference from language employed in the federal constitution, and by the decisions of Chief Justice Marshall. Section 2 of article I of the state constitution provides that all political power is inherent in the people. If, in the exercise of their power, they reserve to themselves the right to pass laws the statutes so passed will possess the same force and have the same dignity as the constitution itself. The right to determine the constitutionality of a legislative act or statute is vested in the courts, and is one of the safeguards enjoined by the minority against the tyranny of the majority. It is doubtful if a statute enacted by the people, in whom all political power is vested, could be declared null and void as being in conflict with any provision of the state constitution. Thus, the safeguard enjoyed by the minority would, so far as the initiative and referendum statutes are concerned, be wiped out.
  • "(b) As our economic and commercial relations grow more complex, beneficial legislation becomes more difficult. This is an era of experts and specialist in almost every avocation of life. The times demand fewer, more thoroughly considered, and more carefully prepared laws. No law should be enacted without a systematic study of its necessity, and the injury it may inflict as well as the evil it is intended to correct. The people at large have no the inclination or time to enter upon and complete such an investigation. Every honest voter must admit this is the uncontrovertible fact. Neither the professional man, the merchant, the trader, the artisan, nor the laborer has the time to devote to the study of these questions such as is necessary to become thoroughly informed.
  • "(c) Any ill-considered law is dangerous to the public good. A vote cast by an elector who has not made a careful and thorough study of the law upon which he votes is an ignorant vote with as fair a chance of being wrong as right. Making laws in this manner may be fairly likened to requiring a jury to return a verdict without hearing all the evidence, or the court rendering a decree upon a hearsay statement of the law and the fact. No sane man would be willing to submit his personal or property rights to such an adjudication, and it is just as hazardous to submit the making of laws which affect the property and personal rights of all to so ill-advised a determination.
  • "(d) Would it not be saner and safer to require of the legislature a more careful consideration of all proposed laws rather than provide a new method for law-making which will bring forth a class of statutes largely the product of the public whim? Is it not reasonable to suppose that preconceived notions, demagoguery, and prejudice will largely enter into the making fo laws by means of the initiative and referendum system?
  • "(e) The present constitutional amendment provides that a law may be submitted to the people within ninety days of a general election. Certainly, the voter will not have the opportunity of research necessary to enable him to form a mature judgment upon statutes thus submitted. His opinions must necessarily be formed from hearsay statements, vociferous mouthing of demagogues, colored and selfish statements of representatives of corporate interests and the half-baked opinions of sensational newspapers.
  • "(f) The cry that those opposed to the initiative and referendum do not trust the people is largely a declaration of demagogues. The judgment of the people is almost invariably right, but a hasty conclusion of the people is as often wrong. The elector, before he determines to vote for the initiative and referendum, should glance over his past life and recall how often he has been led to an erroneous conclusion in public and private matters by the mistaken statements of the well-meaning persons. In political matters eternal vigilance is required to avoid being led into error by designing persons as well as by those who profess to know when they do not.
  • "(g) Every law before being enacted should be submitted to some forum in which it is subject to deliberation and amendment. Under the proposed initiative and referendum no amendment is possible, even though a law should be proposed containing a provision which is palpably unjust and vicious.
  • "(h) The voter can much more readily and discriminately select honest representatives to make the laws than he can determine what laws are hones and beneficial to the whole commonwealth.
  • "(i) The initiative and referendum are yet in the experimental stages. It takes many years, and often many decades, to determine whether an organic law is wise or unwise. The constitutionality of the initiative and referendum has not yet been adjudged or its wisdom established.
  • "The supreme court of the United States may yet hold that this amendment is in conflict with that provision of the federal constitution which guarantees to each state a republican form of government. California might do well to watch and wait while Oregon, Oklahoma, and other states are experimenting with this radical departure form the government established by our fathers.
  • "(j) The voter should remember that though the initiative and referendum may work satisfactorily in small communities, or in cities where the population is compact, it does not necessarily follow that it will be a success when applied to a commonwealth in which the interests are as varied and the population as large and the needs of the people as multifarious as they are in California.
  • "Finally, inasmuch as the electors within the last few years have experienced a newly awakened interest in selecting their representative in all matters of public trust, and inasmuch as direct primary law has brought it within their power to absolutely select officers of their own choosing, is it not wiser to leave further experimentation alone until the results in those states which have adopted the initiative and referendum can be carefully studied?"

Path to the ballot

Proposition 7 was placed on the ballot via Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 22, which read:

"A resolution to propose to the people of the State of California an amendment to the constitution of said state, by amending section 1 of article 4 thereof, relating to legislative powers, and reserving to the people of the State of California the power to propose laws, statutes and amendments to the constitution and to enact the same at the polls, independent of the legislature and also reserving to the people of the State of California the power to approve or reject at the polls any act or section or part of any act of the legislature."

See also

External links

References