"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson


We as Americans all remember being taught when we were young about our nation's founders, the patriots who stood up to the tyranny of the crown of England, the drafters of the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the bill of rights, the documents that became the framework for a system of governance that they believed would maintain a balance of power within a truly representative government, that would preserve the basic rights and liberties of the people, let their voice be heard, and provide to them a government, as Lincoln later put it, "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."

Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?

Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.

How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.

In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…



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Thursday, June 26, 2008


The collection of signatures for petitions is a long and arduous one, but in Maine it pays off. When people disagree with laws promoted by the the Legislature, they have an opportunity to reject them through a people's veto. Although this is not a common occurrence, two people's vetoes may go through this year. The article below gives historical context and outlines the necessary processes to achieve democratic change of law in Maine. -Editor

History doesn't favor 'people's veto'

Blethen Maine Newspapers

Source: http://kennebecjournal.mainetoday.com/news/local/5114501.html

AUGUSTA -- The activists who want Maine voters to overturn two newly passed state laws have about a 50-50 chance of prevailing at the polls, if they can first overcome the difficult task of collecting enough signatures to place their "people's veto" referendums on the Nov. 4 ballot.
When voters get a chance to kill controversial laws passed by the Legislature, they do so only about half of the time, according to state records going back almost 100 years.

But most veto campaigns never make it that far, records show, so the biggest hurdle for veto backers is qualifying for a spot on the ballot.

The people's veto is making headlines these days because two unrelated groups are circulating petitions to try to get voters to repeal new laws.

If both groups succeed to placing their plans on the ballot, it will mark the first time since 1940 that Maine voters have tackled two people's vetoes in one year.

One campaign wants to block legislatively approved taxes on beer, wine and soda to help pay for the Dirigo Health program.

The other one wants to repeal a state law that would tighten procedures for issuing Maine driver's licenses, in part by requiring that applicants prove they are in the country legally.

Both campaigns involve a long-established but seldom-used provision in the Maine Constitution that allows voters to repeal, or veto, laws passed by the Legislature.

The provision is very similar to another constitutional safeguard that allows Maine voters to pass laws at the ballot box through the initiated referendum.

"It brings a certain legitimacy to the entire (political) process if people participate in it" by second-guessing the Legislature's decisions from time to time, said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. "I think it's a good protection to have."

The organizers of each people's veto campaign must collect the signatures of 55,087 voters and submit them to the Secretary of State's Office by July 17 to get their proposal on the ballot this November.

Each camp received permission to start circulating petitions in mid-May, effectively giving them only two months to meet the signature deadline.

If either group succeeds in getting its question on the ballot, the affected law -- new taxes in one case, and new licensing procedures in the other -- would not take effect unless the voters upheld it Nov. 4.

Maine is one of 24 states in the nation, and one of only two in New England, that allow voters to veto newly passed laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But getting a people's veto on the ballot here can be a daunting task, both because of the number of signatures required and the speed with which they must be collected.

Eleven people's veto campaigns have been launched in Maine from 1996 to 2007, for example, but only two of those have actually made it onto the ballot. In the rest of the cases, organizers either abandoned their campaigns before the deadline for submitting petitions to the state, or failed to collect enough valid signatures to force a public vote.

State records show that Mainers have tackled people's veto referendums only 25 times since Sept. 12, 1910, when they vetoed a law setting a uniform standard for the amount of alcohol in liquor. The records also show that voters have not overwhelmingly supported or opposed the laws they were asked to veto. In fact, they have split down the middle since that first vote back in 1910 by upholding 13 laws and killing 12 others.

In the most recent decision, which occurred in 2005, Mainers voted 55 percent to 45 percent to uphold a gay rights law passed by the Legislature that year. By doing so, they reversed a 1998 vote -- the only people's veto referendum of the 1990s -- in which voters vetoed a gay rights law by a vote of 51 percent to 49 percent.

The Christian Civic League of Maine has mounted a referendum campaign this year to repeal various safeguards for gay men and lesbians, but that effort is not a people's veto. It seeks to rescind laws and programs that are in effect already, rather than veto brand-new laws that have yet to take effect.

Although recent people's vetoes dealing with gay rights have had a high profile, the process of asking voters to veto state laws proved much more popular in the early years of the 20th century than in more recent years, according to state records. They show that voters considered four to six vetoes per decade in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s and three in the 1940s, followed by only one per decade since the 1950s. The fact that there have been relatively few veto referendums over the years, and with mixed results, prompts supporters of the process to argue that it is being used judiciously and that voters are cautious in secondguessing the Legislature. "It's the sort of thing that I think works best when it's used infrequently,"said James Melcher, a political scientist at the University of Maine at Farmington. "I don't think it's gotten too far out of balance." "It's really not being used that much," said Kathleen McGee of Bowdoinham, a leader of the people's veto campaign dealing with driver's licenses. It will be difficult to get that proposal on the ballot, McGee said, because organizers have only two months to collect 55,087 signatures. Critics counter that allowing voters to veto laws gives them more power than they need and undermines the republican form of government. Under such a system, voters elect decision makers to represent them instead of calling the shots themselves, as they would in a direct democracy. "There is a mechanism in place for registering disfavor and changing policy, and that is elections," said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine. In his view, allowing voters to veto laws is unnecessary because voters already have the power to replace politicians who enact offensive laws, by voting them out of office. "The form we set up is inherently a republican form," Brewer said. He said politicians have more time and resources to carefully study issues than the voters do, so lawmakers develop "a more informed position" on issues as a result. "Anything that undermines that makes me a little nervous," Brewer said. Whatever the perceived merits or deficiencies of the process, the two people's veto campaigns can be expected to intensify on June 10, when members of the Democratic, Republican and Green Independent parties cast ballots in primary elections. By law, petition circulators can collect signatures at polling places, so the primaries will provide an ideal forum for doing just that as the July 17 filing deadline approaches.

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