Our discussion of Amendment V’s implications for plurality thresholds and ties prompted one shy reader to comment by e-mail that a fundamental weakness of the initiative process is the absence of a committee process that allows voters to review initiated measures, spot gaps and errors, and refine out those problems. In the status quo, once initiative sponsors start circulating their petitions (over a year before the election), they are locked into their initiative language. If anyone discovers a problem or suggests better language, the voters’ only recourse is to either vote the initiative down, sending the sponsors back to repeat the same two-year drafting, petitioning, and campaigning process, or, if it’s an initiated law rather than a constitutional amendment, vote Yes and gamble on the Legislature’s ability to fix the initiative’s flaws during the following Session.
I agree that the lack of a committee/bicameral/amendment process is a disadvantage of initiative. Perhaps we could try a wiki initiative:
- Keep the current petition process to place an initiated measure on the ballot, requiring initiative sponsors to submit all petitions by one year before the next general election.
- Require the Secretary of State to validate all petitions by January 1 the year of the general election (basically eight weeks after the petition submission deadline).
- Once the Secretary of State validates the initiative petition, post the initiative on a wiki, accessible to all South Dakota voters.
- Allow all South Dakota voters to discuss and amend the initiated measure on the wiki.
- All wiki participants must settle (by majority vote, just like committee) on a final form of the wiki initiative by June 1.
- The original sponsors of the initiative must decide by July 1 (or 90 days after end of Session, same deadline as referrals) which version goes to the ballot: the amended wiki version or the original circulated version. (Given this awesome decision-making power, I might consider requiring that ballot question committees consist of at least nine sponsors, or maybe a larger odd number.)
Imperfections abound in this wiki-amendment proposal, but it would provide the opportunity for review that helps iron out imperfections in normal legislation. I welcome your thoughts about eligibility, security, and voting procedures that could add this level of volunteer citizen review to our initiative process.