Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/281

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

the corruption of the nineties. The people were dissatisfied with their state legislature, and with cause. They decided to make some of the laws themselves and to have the right of rejecting any of the legislature’s enactments which they chose. The initiative and referendum, making these achievements possible, were adopted in 1902. South Dakota and Utah had previously passed constitutional amendments making the initiative and referendum possible, but seem to have made little use of them. California began popular lawmaking in 1911, and Washington in 1912. Following Oregon’s example, there are now nineteen states that practise direct legislation.

Oregon citizens have voted in seven elections, extending over a dozen years, on one hundred and thirty-six measures, adopting fifty-one and rejecting eighty-five. The fifty measures adopted include all the above mentioned laws of the Oregon system and, in addition, prohibition, employer’s liability, three-fourths verdict in civil cases, eight hour law on public works, and the abolition of capital punishment.

All the laws so far mentioned were proposed by the people themselves through the initiative and not by the state legislature, as indeed are nearly all the measures which are voted on by the people. Among the eighty-five measures rejected are a state income tax, several single tax measures, measures making it possible to abandon the general property tax, prohibition, woman suffrage, eight hour law for women, universal eight hour law, measures providing wholesale changes in the state constitution, proportional representation, and the abolition of the senate.

Some results[1] of Oregon’s experiment in direct legislation are the following. A body of excellent laws have been passed with surprisingly few mistakes. Some good measures have been defeated—also several radical measures and a number of measures of minor importance. The people are conservative as well as progressive. For the education of voters the initiative and referendum are unsurpassed. The voters take a good deal of interest in lawmaking, watching the ballot carefully for jokers and private motives. Seventy-five per cent. of those who vote, vote on the measures. All classes of citizens initiate laws. The voters amend their constitution as readily as they pass bills. The tendency is to place a larger number of measures on the ballot. The efficiency of representative legislatures seems not to have suffered, but perhaps to have gained.

The first law passed by the initiative in Oregon was the direct primary law. The direct primary, by permitting voters to vote directly for nominations, has done more than any other device to break the grip of

  1. The evidence for the above mentioned conclusions may be found in the following papers: Ogburn, “Direct Legislation in Oregon,” Quarterly Publications of the American Statistical Association, June, 1914; and Montague, “The Oregon System at Work,” National Municipal Review, April, 1914.