Ever since anti-taxation zealots in California rediscovered the populist frisson of the ballot initiative a generation ago, American politics has gone off on a binge of ballot proposals.

Today is one of the busiest, with 81 citizen initiatives before voters in more than 20 states. Pity the poor voter who has to wade through a list of contradictory proposals, doing work that should be the responsibility of elected officials. The ballot questions getting the most attention undoubtedly include the South Dakota proposal to overrule the Legislature’s passage of a draconian ban on nearly all forms of abortion, and a Missouri constitutional amendment aimed at banning restrictions on stem cell research. As much as we approve those sentiments, we still can’t help clinging to the idea that the best way to protect abortion rights or stem cell research is to elect sensible lawmakers and appoint judges who believe in the Constitution.

Scattershot initiative is no way to run a democracy; rebuke is no substitute for effective representation. In this crazy-quilt of vox pop, an initiative to make it easier to propose future ballot initiatives is reported to be in trouble with Colorado voters.

This is small comfort for any voter imagining the ballot is about choosing responsive politicians more than panaceas.