Referendums also tend to make legislating in the future much harder, by casting policies as constitutional changes that are hard to dislodge. And, Bell argues, they undermine the legitimacy of legislatures by suggesting that real democracy can only come directly from the people instead.
In a world where all kinds of decisions that should be made by legislators are made by referendums instead, we get, well, California — a state where ballot initiatives rule what happens to individual bonds and bag taxes and even proposed buildings. Back in 1978, California voters generously decided in a ballot measure to cap their own property taxes in a way — amending the state constitution — that has hobbled ever since California’s ability to generate revenue and create reasonable housing policy.
Last year’s Supreme Court decision upholding gay marriage also underscored another drawback of referendums: Give people a chance at the ballot box, and they may also trample minority rights.