ACRI Ballot Initiative: Direct Democracy Fails When Citizens Feel They Are Ignored By Initiative Process

Professor Marci Hamilton wrote on FindLaw, about her observations of the discontent that members of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights And Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) had for Ward Connerly and his ballot initiatives against affirmative action (click on the ward connerly category in the right column for my previous posts on this subject).

Among Professor Hamilton’s comments, she observed that the fact that affirmative action was forced on the population not in the social majority, the ballot initiative process worsened tensions rather than decreased them.

This was the best example I have witnessed to date of the infirmities of direct democracy. The controversy over affirmative action is obviously a social problem that is hyper-charged with emotion and that plays into deeply-held beliefs and values, and the lawmaking process that ended over one and a half years ago had not succeeded in resolving public tensions. To the contrary, it had only reinforced those disagreements and resentments. The result was a frustrated group of citizens — calling itself By Any Means Necessary in no small part because its members felt disenfranchised by the routine means by which the process operated.

I agree with Professor Hamilton. The ballot initiative process cannot work for social policies like affirmative action where the people outside the social majority do not have the power to prevent the passage of an initiative which is not in the social minority’s interest. I wrote the following in a previous post.

In general, ballot initiatives should be limited to non-controversial items with broad general applicability, for example, approving library bonds, and similar items. Issues that potentially deprive vulnerable citizens of human rights must go to the state legislature.


The American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) initiative campaign in several states is unfair to people who are not members of the dominant social group (see my related posts here). The actions sought in ACRI’s ballot initiative has a profound negative impact on a vulnerable portion of the total population.


2 thoughts on “ACRI Ballot Initiative: Direct Democracy Fails When Citizens Feel They Are Ignored By Initiative Process

  1. Democracy will always fail to be just to everyone because of its design. The majority in any given conflict of interest will ultimately win out by sheer strength of voting numbers. The one saving grace that our democracy has is its ability to give those on the end of unjust or unconstitutional decisions of democracy a place to contest those decisions and have them overturned. Doesn’t always work as well as we would like it to, but it’s better than nothing.

    In the case of affirmative action, I think that it’ll take a combination of changing the ideas that people have of it and maybe reducing the scope of it in some areas.

    There are still social and financial inequities in this society based on the fact that the playing fields in every arena have really only been leveled in the last few decades. The good thing here is that I think that the vast majority of Americans really don’t need legal threats of enforcement of equality to treat each other as equals. You still have the odd idiot and racist here and there on every side of the fence, but they can be dealt with through several legal means.

    If affirmative action is to survive until it truly is no longer needed at all, it’s going to have to be redefined as a tool to simply go after those who would deny others opportunity based on skin color or gender in the minds of the general population at large. When you say those words now, many people immediately think of the popular culture beliefs of quotas, un or under qualified individuals taking jobs form the qualified or people essentially being given handouts.

    I think that affirmative action laws could be changed/reduced somewhat in their scope without doing any great damage, but there would also have to be a repackaging of it. It may even have to die and be reborn under a different name or under many different names and forms. That may sound stupid at first, but something as simple as a name sometimes makes a big difference. Politicians play that game all the time because it does work.

    Granted, the opponents of affirmative action would just shriek and point and declare that it was the old devil come again anew, but it would be easier to fight the negative perceptions that years of this battle have created in the minds of the public as a whole. It might also be the best chance of keeping the thing around in the areas that it’s still needed for the (hopefully) last few generations who may still need it.


  2. There are many excellent proposals to improve the ballot initiative process to make them more deliberative, less influenced by money, easier for the non-rich, etc. It’s LEGISLATORS who refuse to try them, instead trying to make them harder and worse -they want a monopoly on legislative power. Foremost is the National Initiative for Democracy project led by former Senator Mike Gravel: Also:

    Take a longer view: Ballot initiatives were the origin of Women’s Suffrage (passed in 13 States before Congress finally went along), publicly funded elections (gotten by initiative in 6 of 7 states having them), medical marijuana (8 of 13), etc. See for details.

    Evan Ravitz, founder,


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