Civil Disobedience

List: Citizen Empowerment

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Paul Jacob, president of the Citizens in Charge Foundation, did jail time in the 1980s for refusing to register for the draft. Since then he's been working to curb politicians' power via term limits. Last year he was indicted for allegedly violating Oklahoma rules barring nonresidents from circulating ballot petitions. A federal appeals court struck down those rules in December. In February reason asked Jacob to list three barriers to citizen participation in politics.

1.) Initiatives, referenda, and recalls are too rare: "Most U.S. cities have some form of these citizen empowerment tools, but most states don't. We need all three—so voters can act through the ballot to pass needed reforms, check laws passed by legislators, or replace an elected official posthaste."

2.) Legislators limit petitioning: "Three separate federal circuit courts have overturned residency laws as unconstitutional. But other restrictions abound, such as laws mandating that petitioners be paid hourly, rather than per signature collected, which increases petitioning cost. Such regulations stymie voters' control of government."

3.) Citizen communication is under attack: "Unlike the often (thankfully) gridlocked, lethargic Federal Election Commission, state and local prosecutors are increasingly persecuting citizens for mailing postcards to neighbors, taking flyers door to door, or putting up yard signs. If citizens don't properly file reports or make required disclosures, their 'crimes' carry fines and even jail time."