Direct Legislation in California
To the Editor of The Nation:
Sir: The struggles of the people of California with their Constitution during the past year have been so notable as to be worthy of record in the Nation. In November, 1910, the people voted on and adopted eight amendments to the Constitution aggregating about 4,400 words. Eleven months later in October, 1911, they voted on twenty-three amendments to the same Constitution, aggregating above 33,000 words. The significance of these figures may be better appreciated if we recall that the entire Constitution of the United States, without the amendments, amounts to about 4,000 words. Restated, in terms of the Federal Constitution as a unit, California has by popular vote in less than a twelvemonth, in two elections and by thirty separate enactments, amended a Constitution five and one-half times as long as the Constitution of the United States by nearly five times as long. I admit that this is “going some.” I have a feeling that California has probably captured another record. But at least the endurance record remains to be contested for.
One of the amendments just adopted contains 3,600 words, and three of them above 2,000 words each. They range–I had almost said from grave to gay–but at any rate from initiative, referendum, and recall, judges included, to woman suffrage and the prescription of a thirty-day compulsory recess for the Legislature, after the main grist of the bills has been introduced. The whole structure of the State has been vitally altered, and it would be interesting to know to what extent it represents the real intelligent will of the electorate.
Of course, there are obvious physical, if not intellectual, limitations on the effective digestion of such a mass of legislation by four hundred thousand electors. As an aid, the secretary of state, under authority of the law, sent to each registered voter a broadside thirty-eight by twenty-five inches in size and a supplemental sheet nine and one-half by twelve and one-half inches, containing the proposed amendments, together with arguments for, and in some cases against them. These sheets were densely printed on both sides in non-pareil type. Figures and specifications convey no idea of the repellent, not to say impossible, nature of this huge double-faced broadside, packed with scores of thousands of minute words as close together as the linotype could stick them. No doubt this was profitably referred to here and there, and without some such assistance the vote would have been a mere farce, but the writer has not yet discovered anybody who claims to have deciphered the whole sheet, nor is it conceivable that one voter in ten can by any possibility have read even the 16,300 words of the amendments themselves.