The vote on Proposition 19 in California raises certain issues with regard to best methods of decision making. The referendum in California was on whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Referendums are direct votes in which an electorate accepts or rejects a proposal.
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A state wide referendum was a good way of reaching a decision on the legalization and regulation of marijuana. This is based on the characteristics of populist democracy. According to Lukacs the populist democracy refers to an ideology that is meant to represent the desires of common people or citizens (4).
Populist democracy pits the interest of the people versus the elites. In the Proposition 19, it was through the referendum that the desires of the people could be known. Although the political representatives are meant to advocate the desires of the people they also have their personal opinions.
After all their research and familiarization of a case they case they reach decisions. Lukacs states that these decisions do not always represent the desires of their electorate (11). As was the case in Proposition 19 Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor was opposed to the acceptance of the proposal according to Slater (2010).
Even President Barrack Obama was against the proposition despite the federal government allocating the right to legalize marijuana use if the state voted for the proposition. Those who are considered elite in society do not therefore represent the desires of the people as well as the people can. By individual votes people can express their desires in an expansive way.
Another reason why a referendum is a good method to use is that it allows people to actively participate in changing their political and social systems which according to Lukacs populist democracy aims at (46). Sound decisions can only be made when people are involved in processes of change.
If people need to vote they will be more likely to get educated about the issues of concern. In the Proposition 19 people tried to inform others as could be seen by the flocking of those who are involved in the marijuana . On the other hand those who were opposed to the proposition organized rallies so that they could educate people about the other side of the issue. The more people are informed the more authentic their decisions are and the better for the state.
Through referendum a more positive and democratic participation is gained. When people have to vote the real issues are at hand compared to party stand and ideas. The referendum eliminates the chances of party interference. According to Slater (2010) people can voice their own desires even when they differ from those of their political parties or associations. Thus, according to Lukacs, a genuine desire about the issues at hand is ensured (72).
This in most cases results in decisions that can withstand time. In Proposition 19 the referendum was quite a good way to get people to choose for themselves. Every holder of a ballot had a chance to influence the vote and be a part of accepting or declining the proposition. That is the height of democracy.
There are still reasons as to why the representative democracy could have been used with elected representatives making the decision. According to Urbinati one of the reasons that would make this method valid is that through it members of the public are still well represented since they elect their representatives (35; 140).
As it is the representatives are already trusted to make decisions for the state affairs. Proposition 19 was just such an affair. Since people undergo a rigorous process to elect those they feel can adequately represent their desires, it is not necessary to spend a lot of money to get people to take their power back again. It would have been better to save money and have the elected members represent the people.
Closely related to this point is that the use of elected representatives also avoids instability to political processes as cited by Urbinati (163). Using representatives allows people to express their desires and yet stability is attained because people know that it is the decision of their elected members that will be taken at the end of the process.
When people are engaged in direct democracy as in the case of using referendum they are more opt to engage in activities and agendas that maximize exposure of their desires in the hope of earning the most awareness and support. This can lead to more political events and demonstration. In the case of Proposition 19 people used many forums to reach to the people including social networks.
Another reason according to Urbinati as to why elected members would be used is in order to protect people from exploitation and swaying by people who stand to benefit or who present themselves as authorities of the issue at hand (102).
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In the case of Proposition 19 there are several people who tried to influence the people based on what they felt. According to Slater (2010) however, some of these people are already in the marijuana business and therefore stand to gain from acceptance of Proposition 19. People can often be swayed and make the wrong decision based on current emotions.
Rationality can be overthrown especially when popular members of the public make their personal stand known. In today’s age when even movie stars are worship and have huge followings, it is not unlikely to find that there are people who do not make their decisions but rather depend on the opinion of others they look up to or admire. In that case genuine democracy is not achieved. Using the referendum has been noted in some cases to lead to fascism.
Even when referendums are conducted and civic education takes place, it is not always to educate people about the entire issue. In the case of Proposition 19 many voters still had to make a decision based on the personal information they had acquired. As stated by Urbinati just because everyone has a vote does not mean that they will keep themselves informed (52).
They may end up voting blindly when they are ill informed and thus negatively contribute to the decision. Elected representatives are however in a position to get as much information about issues as possible and thus make more informed and dependable decisions for the majority of people whom they represent.
It is clear that both democracies have their strengths and weaknesses. However in the case of Proposition 19 the populist democracy was appropriate for a decision on marijuana use. It gave the people an opportunity to make their own decision on a new issue that has the potential to change history. It is quite appropriate that the vote lay with the electorate.
Lukacs, John. Democracy and Populism: Fear and hatred. New York: Yale University Press, 2005. Print.
Slater, Joanna. California Considers a Truce in The War on Pot. CBC News, 2010. Web.
Urbinati, Nadia. Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.