Review: Sign It Into Law: How To Put Your Petition On The Ballot by Victoria Stoklasa

Sometimes we forget that our responsibility as citizens requires more than simply voting from time to time (often only in congressional and presidential elections) and then sitting back and complaining about the results. This hands-mostly-off approach to democracy has resulted in our thinking of government as “Them,” when it really is—or at least should be—”Us.”

George Bernard Shaw quipped, “Democracy is a device that insures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” Stoklasa’s small manual helps citizens make sure that what we deserve is better than what we’ve come to expect.

Victoria Stoklasa, a political activist from Missouri with a master’s degree in political science, has written a surprisingly readable and often inspirational step-by-step guide to getting petitions and referenda on state and local ballots—at least in the states where citizens have the right to do so. According to Stoklasa, some states have petition-initiative rights, some have referendum rights, some have both, and some have neither. What this means is that for some of us, this book won’t be of practical use. However, I recommend that you read it, regardless of what state you live in. Even if you aren’t able to put these guidelines into action, you will certainly be moved by the pragmatic sense of patriotism this book instills. Without any flag-waving or drumbeating, and without the slightest hint of partisanship, this book managed to re-excite me about the opportunity of taking part in my own government.

It is not primarily motivational, however. It is very much a handbook, a detailed, step-by-step guide to the process of getting your petition on the ballot—and what to do afterward, whether or not you’ve been successful. In addition to explaining the essential steps of the process, Stoklasa gives tips, from suggesting that individual petitioners partner with an organization with similar goals or concerns, to a sample conversation between a canvasser and a voter. Scattered throughout the text are examples, both cautionary and intriguing, of other petition drives that succeeded or did not. Helpful appendices listing petition rights and regulations by state, as well as worksheets and checklists make this an indispensible tool for anyone considering mounting a petition or referendum drive.

Sign It Into Law opens with the statement, “Politics can be soul crushing.” Anyone who has been even slightly involved with the process knows this to be true. Yet this book offers an antidote, or perhaps a salve, for the soul battered by politics. To simply sit down and read it is to be reassured of what democracy is meant to be. To put it into practice is to take part in our democracy at the most fundamental level. Stoklasa reminds her readers:

You have the right to influence legislation—a rare right, not just in the United States, but in the world . . . .

Even if you aren’t interested in mounting a petition, or if it is not possible in your state, reading this book might just make you feel a little better about our system of government. If you’ve been disillusioned with our system of government (and who hasn’t from time to time?), this book might serve as a good reminder of what democracy can be when the citizenry takes democracy at its word.