The Post and Courier of Charleston on the statewide initiative process:
The Legislature is the dominant force in South Carolina’s government and, no surprise, hasn’t been willing to give the voters access to a statewide initiative process. For the sake of accountability, that ought to change.
Jim Gordon, state director of Voters-In-Charge, cites the absence of a provision for statewide initiative petition, as well as the high threshold for citizens to force local referendums.
A threshold of 8 percent of the voters who participated in the most recent presidential election, suggested by Gordon, would make it much easier for citizens to petition for a ballot measure.
At the state level, that percentage would be in the middle range of the 24 states that allow the process. …
Voters should have the option of petitioning for legislative review or for a public referendum on an issue of broad concern. But the threshold should be sufficient to ensure that a measure has substantial public support, particularly on ballot questions. The bar should be high enough to ensure that the process isn’t hijacked by single-interest groups.
At present, there is no opportunity for South Carolina voters to bring a matter to a statewide public referendum, short of convincing their legislators to do so. That’s why populist measures such as legislative term limits have never gotten serious consideration in this state. There’s not even the threat of a publicly initiated referendum to force the issue.
Statewide initiative would serve as a safety valve for the voters. Its passage would help encourage greater honesty and accountability among our elected officials, particularly if it were coupled with a provision allowing the voters to force recall elections.
The toughest vote on statewide initiative petition and referendum will be in the Legislature, whose members have the most to lose by granting a limited option for direct democracy.
If legislators really support representative government, they should provide the opportunity for voters to force ballot consideration of issues on their own — and not just at the local level.