Sunday, August 5, 2012

When in doubt, vote no

I am not a big fan of ballot initiatives and most state constitutional amendments. (I'm an even bigger opponent of federal constitutional amendments as a general rule, but those don't come up very often (as was the plan), so I don't tend to stew about the damn fool ideas that are proposed as amendments.) I don't think direct democracy is the most workable idea for a large population. California is the perfect example of how horribly it can go wrong. That state's ridiculous ballot initiatives are bankrupting it.

My general rule is to vote against ballot questions, just on principle. In my view, constitutional amendments should be very few and very far between, reserved for only the most essential things. Most things are better dealt with by legislation, which offers more flexibility for addressing unintended consequences or problems in application. I would certainly never vote for a constitutional amendment if I didn't know the exact language I was voting for.

My biggest beef with ballot measures is that most people don't know what they're voting for. Take for example Missouri's current Amendment Two. It's being called the "Right to Pray" amendment. Proponents are touting it as something that will protect religious liberty in the public square. And if all anyone ever read was the language that will appear on the ballot, they may fall for that and vote in favor. Because the proposed language that would actually be added to the state's constitution if the amendment passes does not appear on the ballot. Instead, all that appears is a ballot question that reads like the blurb on the back of a book.

Here is what will appear on the Missouri ballot:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure:
That the right of Missouri citizens to express their religious beliefs shall not be infringed;
That school children have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools; and
That all public schools shall display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.
It is estimated this proposal will result in little or no costs or savings for state and local governmental entities.

Fair Ballot Language:
A "yes" vote will amend the Missouri Constitution to provide that neither the state nor political subdivisions shall establish any official religion. The amendment further provides that a citizen's right to express their religious beliefs regardless of their religion shall not be infringed and that the right to worship includes prayer in private or public settings, on government premises, on public property, and in all public schools. The amendment also requires public schools to display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.
A "no" vote will not change the current constitutional provisions protecting freedom of religion.
If passed, this measure will have no impact on taxes.

Seems fairly harmless, right? From this, you would have no idea that a yes vote would actually add 400 words to the state constitution and assuredly cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in dealing with the inevitable lawsuits. Honestly, it ought to be illegal for a ballot to contain anything less than the full and complete amendment being voted on. Mailers sent to voters either for or against the amendment should also be required to contain the full language. Heck, I had to look a little to find a link to the language even in a news story or on the Missouri Secretary of State's website.

Missourians will vote on this on Tuesday. I'm expecting it to pass because it's got such a catchy nickname. But I have no confidence that the people who will be voting to amend the state constitution have any idea what they're getting themselves into.


BellsforStacy said...

Does this thinking apply to bond issues? Because I vote no on those too. :)

Except when my husband says it's a technology something or other that could potentially make his life easier. Then I vote yes. Except there was one time I still voted no, because I thought the county project was ridiculous.

S said...

Bond issues on a ballot don't bug me as much. As long as they're local. Direct democracy works best at the local level, after all.

BellsforStacy said...

Very true!

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