On paper, California’s direct democracy is fairly similar to Switzerland’s, but the way they work is miles apart, because words are not facts.
Let us look at how Switzerland deals with the issue we addressed in the previous post; legalization of same-sex marriages.
The Swiss, in a 2005 referendum, legalized same-sex partnership or unions, not same-sex marriage, just unions.
There is no appeal in Switzerland against what the people decide in a referendum; no government or judge can overturn it.
One option, for those not satisfied with the results, was to keep working until they can have the 50 000 signatures required to hold another referendum. In the new referendum, most voters may agree with them in whatever new proposal they make to legalize same-sex marriage.
Another option was that a political party in parliament introduce a motion to make a new law recognizing same-sex marriage.
In 2013, The Green Party of Switzerland introduced in the Swiss Parliament a motion to develop a new law to legalize same-sex marriage.
After much debating and negotiating, in 2020 the new draft law has cleared, by a large majority, the lower house of the Swiss Parliament. In November 2020, the upper chamber will vote too. It is expected the upper chamber will also pass the law.
Surveys show that today, the overwhelming majority of Swiss voters, even a majority of voters of the more conservative parties, support making same-sex marriage legal. This means it is unlikely anyone will challenge the new law in a referendum. If so, the new law will become the Swiss law on same-sex marriages.
However, if within 100 days, an individual, a group of individuals, or a political party, gathers the 50 000 signatures necessary to take the new law to a referendum, and if in the referendum, the voters reject the new law; it is back to the drawing board.
This is how direct democracy works; it is in the hands of the people. It adjusts to the changes in attitudes and values of the people.
Some people say that in California direct democracy is not working very well, they are right. It is not working because California does not have a real direct democracy. This will be so as long as the judges can prevail over the will of the people, as we showed in the previous post.
Representative democracy lacks the mechanisms, that direct democracy has to be continuously in tune with the will of the people.
In a direct democracy, the people who want change accept that their fellow citizens democratically may turn down the change they want. They accept the decision because the system gives them plenty of opportunities to convince their fellow citizens they should change a law, that we need a new law, or that the constitution itself needs revision. This fosters civilized debate and makes most demonstrations unnecessary and prevents riots.
If you want a society where change is smooth and gradual, a society where votes really count, because voters make the most important decisions, direct democracy delivers what you want.