Direct democracy is now 105 years old in California, and while many think that legislating at the ballot box has gotten way out of hand — especially with this year's 17 state initiatives and 25 local ones in SF — there is something to be said for laws that the people make themselves. USC law professor Elizabeth Garrett has said, it's empowering for a populace to make change directly, "rather than hoping that lawmakers, who have an interest in the process, will reform [things] themselves." Indeed the ballot initiative system began in California during a period when businessmen and monied interests were having too great an influence on the state legislature, and it was a Republican governor who helped usher in the era of direct democracy in the state in 1911. And you think this year's ballot is long? You should have seen the ballot in 1914.

As The California Report discusses this morning, one of the first years that ballot initiatives became possible in the state, in 1914, there were 48 state measures on the ballot, putting our current 17 to shame.

Reporter Polly Stryker says, at the time, "There was a growing frustration with the power of the Southern Pacific Railroad... and putting the initiative process on the ballot and getting it ratified in the constitution as an amendment was a way to break the power of the railroad." And this first big round of initiatives included a number of populist concerns, including an attempt at alcohol prohibition (which would ultimately pass as a national constitutional amendment five years later, in 1919); the establishment of a state water commission, which passed; the establishment of a minimum wage for women and children, which passed; the establishment of an eight-hour work day, which failed; and a ban on organizing, training for, or betting on prize fights, which had clearly become a widespread public ill at the time, and which passed.

The ballot initiative system was, as Stryker says, "part of the progressive movement, and it's a way to circumvent corruption or untrustworthy politicians." But, of course, huge sums of money have creeped into the system, especially when it comes to corporate interests (like Big Pharma, and Big Soda) buying ad time to shoot down progressive causes like prescription drug price cuts and soda taxes. And it tends to take a ton of money to get anything on the ballot these days, with over 900,000 signatures required.

LA Weekly did a recent piece about the history of direct democracy in California, and we were actually the 10th state in the union to establish such a system during a broader progressive era. The initiative, referendum, and recall systems in the state were largely spurred by a wealthy progressive doctor, John Randolph Haynes, who "moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles for his health in 1887 and helped found the Christian Socialist Economic League of Los Angeles," as the Weekly explains. Haynes was fond of saying, "The remedy for the evils of democracy is more democracy," and after getting direct democracy established in LA County, he moved on to pushing it at the state level.

Haynes found an ally in Hiram Johnson, a progressive Republican who was elected governor of California in 1910, and their Lincoln-Roosevelt League helped put Proposition 7, which established the initiative, referendum, and recall systems, on the ballot the following year as a state constitutional amendment.

Fast forward to today, Election Day, when you can see the machinations of business and politics all over the ballot, and a somewhat confused and confusing version of direct democracy at work. While the idea remains a nice one in its purest form, there is something absurd, particularly in general election years, in believing that California's 17.9 million registered voters have the inclination, time, or intelligence to parse the complexities of over a dozen new laws they're asked to vote on, especially when monied interests spend hundreds of millions of dollars to sway them with sound bites one way or the other.

Spending on state ballot measure campaigns has reached an all-time high in 2016, approaching $500 million, with $100 million of that being spent on the prescription drug measure, Prop 61, alone.

Next up: A ballot measure to reform the ballot measure process.

Related: Here's What You Need To Know Before Voting For The Dozens Of State And Local Propositions