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"Direct Democracy": Frequently Asked Questions

"Direct Democracy": Frequently Asked Questions

(A publication of the Direct Democracy Party of New Zealand).

Go to www.ddp.co.nz for a Power point presentation of these notes, or email Steve Taylor, Deputy Leader, Direct Democracy Party of New Zealand, for more information.

What does "Direct Democracy" do?

o Direct Democracy assures that sovereignty is lodged in the assembly of all citizens at all times for those who choose to participate, as opposed to Representative Democracy, whereby sovereignty is exercised by a subset of the people, elected periodically, but otherwise free to advance their own agendas.

o Direct Democracy deals with how citizens are "directly" involved with voting for various laws, instead of voting for representatives to decide for them.

What does "Direct Democracy" look like in practice?

• Direct Democracy is characterised by three pillars:

• 1/ Initiative: (whereby any citizen, on collecting sufficient support, can trigger a Binding Referendum).

• 2/ Binding Referendum: (whereby the voting population is granted an opportunity to veto government legislation).

• 3/ Recall: (whereby voters can remove an elected official from office if the elected official fails to represent the interests of the electorate).

What other countries practice "Direct Democracy"?

• Switzerland provides the strongest example of a modern direct democracy, as it exhibits the first two pillars at both the local and federal levels. In the past 120 years more than 240 initiatives have been put to referendum. The Swiss populace has been conservative, approving only about 10% of the initiatives put before them; in addition, they have often opted for a version of the initiative rewritten by government.

• The United States of America is another example of Direct Democracy in action. Despite being a federal republic where no direct democracy exists at the federal level, over 50% of the states (and many localities) provides for citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives (also called "ballot measures" or "ballot questions") and the vast majority of the states have either initiatives and/or referenda.

How do people vote in a "Direct Democracy"?

o Direct Democracy may include e-democracy, comprising the use of electronic communications technologies, such as the Internet, in enhancing democratic processes within a democratic republic or representative democracy.

o This avenue is best coupled with more traditional forms of vote casting (phone, fax, letter, and personal 1:1 communication) so as to ensure fair democratic inclusion of those who may not have internet access or connection.

When was "Direct Democracy" first practiced?

• Direct Democracy has an ancient history dating back to 449 BC in the Roman Republic: "citizen lawmaking"—citizen formulation and passage of law, as well as citizen veto of legislature-made law were both practiced in Rome.

• Direct Democracy in its more modern form began in 1847, when the Swiss added the "statute referendum" to their national constitution. And in 1891, when they added the "constitutional amendment initiative".

What other components of "Direct Democracy" are available to voters?

o Direct Democracy may include Constitutional amendment initiative, the most powerful citizen-initiated, direct democracy governance component.

o It is a constitutionally-defined petition process of "proposed constitutional law," which, if successful, results in its provisions being written directly into the state's constitution.

o Since constitutional law cannot be altered by state legislatures, this direct democracy component gives the people an automatic superiority and sovereignty, over representative government. This method of Direct Democracy is currently used in 18 US states.

o Direct Democracy may include Statute law initiative, a constitutionally-defined, citizen-initiated, petition process of "proposed statute law," which, if successful, results in law being written directly into the state's statutes.

o This method of Direct Democracy is used in 21 US states.

o Direct Democracy may include Statute law referendum, a constitutionally-defined, citizen-initiated, petition process of the "proposed veto of all or part of a legislature-made law," which, if successful, repeals the standing law.

o This method of Direct Democracy is used in 24 US states.

Why should I as a voter consider voting for "Direct Democracy"?

• Improved representation at a local level.
• Reduced potential for conflicts of interest.
• Reduced potential for political corruption.
• Issues decided on own merits, not "special interests".
• More rapid Government transition.
• Reduced influence of major political party donors.
• Reduced patronage and nepotism by elected officials.
• Greater political transparency.
• Efficient and voter-sanctioned decision making process.
• Increased Representative accountability via Voter Recall option.

What do the critics of "Direct Democracy" say about such a system of Government?

1/ "Direct Democracy won't work with a large population like New Zealand (4 million people)".

A: Developments in technology such as the internet, user-friendly secure software, and personal computers can now implement large scale applications of Direct Democracy. Switzerland has 7.3 million citizens, and the USA has 300 million citizens - Direct Democracy is working well for both countries.

2/ "Voters will get tired of voting on issues by Referendum".

A: With the advent of the Internet and cell-phones, e-democracy is a now a potent and efficient tool now regularly used by New Zealanders to practically and efficiently cast their vote on an issue.

Common examples of e-democracy now include:
• On-line opinion polls.
• Text voting.
• Phone polls.
• Formal surveys (e.g.: Colmar Brunton, TNS, Gallup)

3/ "Direct Democracy is simply imposing the tyranny of the majority onto the minority".

A: There is absolutely no historical evidence to prove this has ever happened. Binding Citizens Initiated Referendums (BCIR) is a definite safeguard against a demagogue gaining power, and such protection is enforced via a formal written Constitution.

There have been a number of demagogues in countries dominated by party politics, but none in Switzerland, which has operated BCIR for over 130 years without incident. Conversely, the "tyranny of the minority" has exerted significant disproportionate power in New Zealand over recent years.
4/ "The voters are too stupid to understand the complexities of the issues at hand, to then have any credibility voting one way or the other on them - expertise on specific Government portfolios is important to ensure good Governance".

A: But voters are still seemingly smart enough to vote in these same critics to represent them under a Representative Democracy? Currently, New Zealand has an unregistered vet as Minister of Health (Pete Hodgeson) an unregistered dental nurse as Minister of Police (Annette King), an ex- history teacher as Minister of Finance (Michael Cullen), and an ex-University lecturer as Prime Minister (Helen Clark). Direct Democracy offers the electorate "informed consent" on issues of the day, by ensuring the electorate is fully informed about the issues of the day, as opposed to assuming that members of the public are "too stupid" to think for themselves and then to decide on issues.

5/ "New Zealand voters under a system of Direct Democracy will only want to look after their own interests, rather than considering the needs and values of a society as a whole."

A: This criticism may be equally made of a Representative Democracy; however it assumes a view of New Zealanders that is not in keeping with how most New Zealanders operate in everyday life. New Zealanders are renowned for "looking after their neighbour"; "lending a hand"; or "helping out a mate". We are famous for "banding together for a common cause", even if their may not be any direct benefit to us at the time. This criticism ignores the reality of the New Zealand psyche.

For more information, purchase a copy of "People Power: How to make the Government listen to you, for a change" by Steve Baron & Jonathan Eisen.

Publisher: The Full Court Press, PO Box 44-128, Pt Chevalier, Auckland. ISBN No: 0-9583681-4-7

Direct Democracy Party of New Zealand: www.ddp.co.nz


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