Imagens das páginas

proportional or minority representation, preferably the former, seems the only just system for a true democracy; practically, however, the simplicity of the present system has led to its retention in most of the great states up to the present day. Some defense may be offered for the present system. The minority in one district will nearly always be the majority party in another district, so that a minority in one district may be represented by the successful candidates from another district. For example, the democrats in the commonwealth of Kansas may feel that they are represented by the elected democratic representatives in the neighboring commonwealth of Missouri. It is argued, furthermore, that a system insuring representation to all minority political groups in the electorate will tend to disrupt the government, in that the legislative body will be composed not of representatives of one great majority party and one somewhat smaller minority party, but of representatives of a very large number of small and local political groups, unable to coalesce in opinion and policy, rendering the necessary coalition ministries short-lived and timid, and, in short, making parliamentary government impracticable. The experiments in minority and proportional representation have not yet been conducted long enough or on a sufficiently large scale to prove or disprove these arguments.

The Recall.-In connection with the appointive power of the electorate there has been suggested in very modern times a removal power. It is argued that the electorate in an ideal democracy should have the power to recall its elected official if at any time such official is in the opinion of the electorate not properly performing his functions. Ordinarily an official is elected for a certain number of years and during that period has a certainty of tenure of his office; the institution of the recall operates to make his tenure of office indeterminate, subject to immediate close at the will of the electorate.

The recall has not been used in the case of national representatives or officials of a state as yet; the device existed in a few of the small cantons of Switzerland and has found especial

favor in certain commonwealths and municipalities of the United States, particularly in the western portion. Its operation is simple: on petition of a certain proportion of the electorate, usually about twenty-five per cent, a new election is held, usually with the official in question as one of the candidates, at which it is determined whether the official shall continue in office or another be elected. Details of operation differ somewhat in the different localities, especially in the proportion of the electorate required in the petition.

The advantage of the recall as a club to hold over dishonest or inefficient officials is obvious. It is another and very radical step in the direction vi complete control of the government by the electorate. Grave disadvantages also exist. The possibility is always present that an honest and efficient official may, in the exercise of his duties, arouse the hostility of a considerable proportion of the electorate and be subjected to recall The effect of a threat of recall may be very bad upon an official disposed to be efficient, paralyzing his will and inclining him so to conduct his office as to meet with popular approval. The cost of the elections required by the recall may amount to considerable. In one instance, in Los Angeles, the cost was nine thousand dollars. In cities as large as New York and Chicago the cost would probably render the scheme inadvisable. One of the worst features of the recall is its operation in the cases of elected members of the judiciary in the various commonwealths of the United States. As has already been shown in the discussion of the judiciary, technical skill and security in the tenure of office are two prerequisites of a fair and impartial judiciary. The recall undermines these by destroying the security in the tenure of office and subjecting the question of technical skill to the judgment of the ill-informed mass of the electorate. In general, it may be said that the institution of the recall tends to lower the influence and subtract from the honor and dignity of public office. It is probable that its advantage could be equally well obtained by a proper use of impeachment provisions.


IV. LEGISLATIVE POWERS OF THE ELECTORATE With modern progress in democratic government the electorate has gained not only the power of appointing the officials but in some states a considerable degree of legislative power as well. Originally, of course, certain representatives of the people were elected to exercise the legislative function in the government. So distrustful has the electorate grown of its own chosen representatives, however, that provisions have been passed by which the electorate can itself initiate legislation, or can require that a legislative measure passed by its representatives be referred to it directly for its approval or disapproval. The provisions by which these ends are accomplished are popularly known respectively as the initiative and the referendum.

Initiative. The initiative provides that a designated proportion of the electorate may frame a legislative measure, present it to the legislature, and, if it be not passed, require that such measure be submitted for approval or disapproval to the whole electorate. Usually the proportion of the electorate necessary to initiate legislation is fixed at about 15 per cent.

Referendum.-The referendum provides that under certain conditions a measure passed by the legislative body shall be submitted for final approval or disapproval to the whole electorate. The referendum provision may be compulsory for all measures, as in certain cantons of Switzerland, may be compulsory only for constitutional changes, as in other cantons of Svitzerland and in some of the commonwealths of the United States, or may be dependent upon the demand of a designated proportion (usually between five and ten per cent) of the electorate.

Use of Initiative and Referendum.—The initiative and referendum provisions for measures for the whole state are found in Switzerland, the initiative applying to proposed constitutional amendments alone, the referendum being compulsory for amendments to the constitution and optional or on

demand for ordinary laws and statutes. The referendum, without the initiative, is provided by the constitution of the Australian Commonwealth. Both initiative and referendum are used in New Zealand for certain special questions, as of taxes or liquor license. A bili has been introduced in England to provide for the referendum to decide serious constitutional issues, and agitation exists at present in France and Norway to provide both initiative and referendum, especially for local issues. In the United States neither the initiative nor the referendum is provided for by the constitution for the whole state. Forms of the initiative and referendum have been known and used in purely local issues, however, for many years. In very recent times initiative and referendum provisions have been incorporated into the constitution of various commonwealths, as Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Missouri, as a part of the regular legislative machinery

Results of Direct Legislation in Switzerland.-Direct legislation (that is, the initiative and referendum) has been tried more fully and more successfully in Switzerland than in any other state. The results of the trial have on the whole been successful, giving Switzerland a more ideally democratic government than any other state has. The legislature in Switzerland has become more an advisory body than a legislative body; the attention of the Swiss electorate is concentrated on measures rather than on men, thus so minimizing the necessity for party politics that parties have feeble organization and no very definite program; and in general, it is argued that direct legislation has prevented bribery and corruption. Even with these manifest advantages, however, a decided disadvantage is to be noted in the indifference of the electorate. Rarely has more than 55 per cent of the electorate voted, and where compulsory voting exists, a notable proportion of the electorate cast blank ballots. This indifference undoubtedly arises from the large number of elections necessary, sometimes fifteen or twenty in a year.

Different Conditions in the United States Which Would Affect Operation of Initiative and Referendum.-In considering transplanting the initiative and referendum from Switzerland to the United States, allowance must be made for differences in conditions. The Swiss electorate is relatively small in numbers and high in intelligence and honesty. Few laws are offered and few passed, and the laws in general are brief and simply phrased, the executive being left to execute them by such measures as are deemed necessary. No executive or judicial veto upon the acts of the legislative body exists. In the United States the electorate is huge in number and scattered over a vast territory. With size and extent, the clumsiness and expense in the operation of direct legislation are enormously increased. In the United States we have made citizenship and the vote easy to acquire, with the result that a large proportion of the electorate is unintelligent and unused to our social and political conditions, and a certain proportion is open to purchase. In the United States, an enormous number of laws are considered and passed each year. The late Senator D. B. Hill computed that 14,000 laws were passed by the national and commonwealth governments during a single year. During a ten-year period the legislature of the commonwealth of New York averaged 550 laws a year. Also, the laws are commonly intended to be exhaustive, covering all possible contingencies of application and execution. Direct legislation in the United States would thus throw a great burden upon the electorate, necessitating a large number of elections with the presentation of many complex measures at each election. The electorate in the United States is accustomed to depute men to do its legislative work for the state, is really better qualified to vote upon men than upon measures. Direct legislation is contrary to our habits. It is doubtful whether direct legislation would, as some argue, destroy political parties. It is possible that the party out of power would use the initiative and referendum to harass the majority and delay constructive action. In the United States

« AnteriorContinuar »