opinion

OPINION: The U.S. Needs a National Direct Ballot Initiatives Law



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A sign that reads "vote here" is seen outside a polling place in Miami-Dade County in Florida. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Low voter turnout in the United States has been a recurring theme in recent election day memory.

It is often difficult for voters to cast their votes due to numerous instances of voter disenfranchisement including laws requiring voter ID, as well as disallowing early and absentee voting in some states.

States should make it easier for citizens to vote by enacting automatic voter registration and making Election Day a national holiday.

The problem not taken into account by these laws is why so many people choose to not go out and vote. Voters feel their vote does not matter and that regardless of who wins the election, members of Congress will continue to serve their donors over the will of the people.

Congress’ approval rating is consistently under 30% even just after elections. Voters need to feel their vote actually affects them and I think an effective way to empower voters is to strengthen direct ballot initiatives.

Direct ballot initiatives put approved petitioned questions directly on the ballot, bypassing state legislatures.

Ballot initiatives have previously had great success changing state laws on issues such as marijuana legalization, minimum wage increases, healthcare reform and gun control. However, the use of ballot initiatives has steadily declined, and they are currently only used in some states.

I propose that the U.S. enact a national direct ballot initiatives law which puts the top three to five most popular political issues on the national ballot every year. This “direct democracy” type of law would likely increase voter turnout because voters would get to directly affect the most important issues at hand.

Congress is notorious for stalling on so many popular political issues and this is primarily due to the corrupting influence of money in politics.

If voters were to vote directly on issues such as raising taxes on the rich, pulling out of unnecessary overseas wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and criminal justice reform, these policies would be changed immediately with substantial majority support.

The national ballot initiatives would not need to be petitioned like with state direct ballot initiatives but may use aggregate public opinion polling from independent non-partisan polling organizations.

It is imperative that the questions put on the ballot are asked in a fair and objective way, giving sufficient context on the issue. Polling agencies will need to meet strict requirements to ensure the public opinion polling is accurate.

Some may critique this idea as putting too much faith in the average American’s ability to make educated decisions on important issues – citing disastrous referendums such as with Brexit in the United Kingdom.

My response is that I have much more faith in the average American looking out for their own best interests rather than their elected representatives. With the current campaign finance laws in place, Congress is highly unlikely to take on the large corporations funding their own re-election campaigns.

In the fight to tackle U.S. political corruption, I think this would be an effective and popular method of both changing important laws and regulation and increasing voter turnout.

Direct ballot initiatives in the states that have them are facing heavy resistance by legislators so it is vitally important to fight to allow ballot initiatives in all states as well as support candidates that only take small dollar donations and have firm support for grassroots mobilization.

Voter suppression is widespread in the U.S. and increasing ballot initiatives everywhere would be a major step in the right direction.

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