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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A democratic theory of ballot measures McKay, Spencer


Ballot measures, such as referendums and initiatives, are seen primarily as mechanisms of ‘direct democracy’, as supplements to ‘representative democracy’, or as failures of ‘deliberative democracy’. However, the recent systemic turn in democratic theory suggests that we should understand ballot measures within the contexts of democratic systems. I argue that the key function of ballot measures in democratic systems is to institutionalize opportunities for citizens to legislate. More specifically, we can extend Waldron’s principles of legislation to serve as the basis for a democratic theory of ballot measures. However, since we cannot simply transpose principles of legislation that were developed for legislatures to ballot measures, we need a theory of ballot measures as institutions of mass legislation. I suggest that synthesizing principles of legislation and election makes it possible to develop a coherent approach to evaluating ballot measures that moves past conflicting judgments that have their origins in distinct and often incommensurable models of democracy. From this vantage point, we can clearly theorize how ballot measures might be reconceived and redesigned to contribute to the political functions of inclusion, agenda-setting, will-formation, and decision-making that should be integral to any democratic system.

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