Expanding Direct Democracy Won’t Make Americans Feel Better about Politics

Joshua J. Dyck, Edward L. Lascher Jr.

As Americans watch the Brexit-related political turmoil in the United Kingdom, it is important to remember that the chaos there began in a form of direct democracy. When U.K. voters set in motion their exit from the European Union, they did so by voting directly on the so-called “Brexit” initiative.

Normally, such major policy would have been initiated, deliberated and voted on by their elected officials in Parliament.

The Brexit mess is an example of the disruptive potential of direct democracy, a practice that Americans have long believed leads to a healthier democratic society.

Recent polls show Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with their system of representative democracy. Many see sharp and unhealthy partisan divisions and lack confidence that the system will produce the results they desire.

Against this backdrop, some advocate for greater use of direct democracy. This includes ballot initiatives, such as those practiced in 24 states, including California, Massachusetts and Michigan.

Ballot initiatives bypass the normal legislative process. They can be written by anyone and receive a public vote without input from lawmakers, provided enough petition signatures are obtained to get the initiative on the ballot.

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