Too Much Democracy?

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

I’m a legal resident of Florida and this week I took advantage of early voting. While I’ve been a political activist for most of my life and usually have a good idea of the issues involved in any particular election, this vote brought home to me that I wasn’t as smart and informed in this election as I supposed. This thought occurred to me the night before I voted, when I carefully looked over the sample ballot sent to me by my County Board of Elections. The sample ballot had six pages and the opportunity to vote twenty six separate times. The first seven of the twenty-six votes, were “no brainers” since it started with the Presidency and ended with County Commissioner. I was familiar with each of these elective offices and the issues entailed in each particular race, but that’s where my familiarity with the issues involved in the next nineteen votes ended. The next possible votes were on whether each of three particular State Supreme Court Judges should be allowed to continue their terms? Not knowing these Judges and/or their judicial views how was I to make such a decision? The next vote was also on whether a particular Justice of the Court of Appeals should be retained in office. The final electoral decision was a vote between one of two people for a four year term to the County Soil and Water commission. This was not a party affiliated position, so other than their names, I had no idea who to vote for, or what their particular conservation philosophy entailed.

Needless to say, I went on the web and found out what was going on in the Judges recall. This is the story and its’ Washington Post link: A Koch Brothers-backed campaign is seeking to vote out three Florida Supreme Court justices.

“A loosely organized Internet campaign against the court two years ago has been fortified by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaire activists Charles and David Koch. And then came the surprise announcement that the Republican Party of Florida had decided to oppose all three justices, an unprecedented move in the nonpartisan vote.

Party leaders said that “collective evidence of judicial activism” showed the jurists to be liberals who are out of touch with the public. Opponents point to the court’s death penalty decisions and a ruling that kept an “Obamacare” referendum off the 2010 ballot. But the justices’ supporters say an effort is underway to pack the court with new appointees and deliver Republicans the only branch of state government they don’t control.”

 While it is true that I had no clue that such a Campaign was going on, in my defense I was out of State for the entire summer and not paying attention to local affairs. This guest blog, however, is not about the Koch’s judicial ploy, but about what followed it on the Florida Ballot. This was the vote on eleven Florida Constitutional Amendments and why I believe that the nationwide movement for voter ballot initiatives is an idea to support democracy, which in practice is anti-democratic in nature.

The texts of these amendments and what are the motives behind them would be far too long to detail in this guest blog. The League of Women Voters summarizes each of these amendments and provides their reasons for why they should be defeated: . Also see here: To give you the full flavor of the deception though, I will give you the text on the ballot of Amendment Number 8, read carefully and you will see the deception in it:

“Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support, except as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

The text you see above was actually revised due to a court order that the former text was way to deceptive and didn’t specify that the purpose of this amendment was to allow state funding of private religious schools and institutions. A discussion of the court background of this amendment and the supporters who pushed this ballot initiative can be found here:,_Amendment_8_(2012)#Text_of_measure

The ballot initiative movement has a long history in the United States. The first such was enacted in South Dakota in 1872. Currently 22 States allow for both Ballot Initiatives and Popular Referendums, to be placed on their ballots, this includes California which has had an infamous history with this methodology. There are currently 18 States that allow for constitutional Amendments Two other States, Kentucky and New Mexico allow only Popular Referendums on their ballot. Finally another two States Florida and Mississippi only allow for Constitutional Amendments. This admixture can be confusing to explain so below you can see a chart of which States, allow what initiatives and when they were adopted: .

This is a complex issue, that doesn’t always lend itself to an easy sorting out of which political philosophies are either pro or con. One of the sources on the favorable side is The Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California (IRI) which is a major clearing house for these measures: This site offers a wealth of information on this topic and provides much argument and background. Although I’m personally very much against the process of ballot initiatives and popular constitutional amendments through public voting, I must concede that many of its supporters are people of good will, who deeply believe in the democratic process. So in this piece I will try to give you the tools to make up your own mind by presenting the cogent arguments of those for and against the process. First though I want to clearly state why I, who deeply believe I the urgency for democracy, view the voter initiative process as being in practice anti-democratic and ultimately destructive to democracy.

Growing up in the 50’s the term “States Rights” meant one thing alone. “States Rights” stood for the enforcement of “Jim Crow” and the cruel repression of Black Americans. As I grew and as I was educated, I began to develop my own theories about the fact that the major oppression of the people in the U.S. derived from State and Local governments, rather than from the Federal Government as those who clamored for “States Right” claimed. This is of course not to say that the Federal Government is pristine. The Federal Government has had its own share of atrocious behavior and tyranny. Yet I believe that the most tyranny in our country’s history has been perpetrated by State Governments and local municipalities. My belief is rooted in the idea that the forces of wealth and tyranny can much more easily manipulate on the local, rather than the national level. Even if a group such as the Klu Klux Klan might only be supported by a minority in a particular State, their radical and violent agenda is such that they can intimidate the majority on a local level through fear. Then too, a polluting company for instance, that provides so many local jobs, can influence and defeat efforts to stop their devastation. A example of this is the influence of the Coal Industry in a State like West Virginia.

Being subject to the influence of well funded interests can also lead to results that severely infringe the U.S. Constitutional Rights of classes of people on a State level. The infamous Proposition 8 in California is a case study of what can happen when a well-funded group of people who oppose the rights of Homosexuals can initiate and pass a State Constitutional Amendment banning their marriages, which to me is in violation of the of the “Equal Protection Clause” of the U.S. Constitution. California’s Supreme Court ruled that in their decision to declare the amendment unconstitutional, but currently an appeal is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court. A history of that State Amendment and the forces supporting it can be found here:

While I believe that most of the supporters of the “Local Initiative” movement have believed they were acting in the cause of spreading democracy, I think they miss the practical reality of how these local initiatives are used against the best interests of democracy. The argument comes down to two issues I think, though I am willing to be corrected.

The first issue is that the voting process, in this age of information and media saturation, can be rigged by special interests and complex procedures explained disingenuously, to put through essentially anti-democratic measures.

The second and more important issue is that the rights of a minority in a democracy should not be abridged by popular will. If these rights can be abridged then the end result will be tyranny.

That’s my take on Popular Initiatives. Below are two links that represents two cogent arguments on this issue:

Pro-direct democracy

Anti direct democracy

 Please read them and let us know where you stand.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.

71 thoughts on “Too Much Democracy?

  1. Jes Louise, that is a lot of information. We got a different problem in North Carolina. Candidates here do not post the name of their Party on their yardsigns or websites. So I emailed this guy running for the NC House. He is a preacher named Cayton. I asked him if he supported the Democratic Ticket and if, when our group meets today after church, we should vote a straight Democratic Ticket with the guy at the top included. Well, he wont email me back. So, the group today will decide to only vote for those on the ballot whom we know and not vote for someone just because they are a Democrat or Republican. So, I am not going to vote for Cayton because he wont say he is voting for Obama.

  2. All ten amendments on the Florida ballot are tea bagger wet dreams. Vote NO on all of them. Can’t believe that you don’t keep up with the FL Supreme court. Vote to retain them….they are the only thing keeping the state from being run by the most corrupt tea bagging fools this side of Timbuktu. The ungodly long ballots need to be put out to pasture. I wish we had a federal law that said only presidential candidates and candidates for the US Senate and the US house could be on a ballot during the presidential election year. We should have separate elections to decide other issues. I know a lot of people who only voted for president and left the rest of the ballot empty. I can’t say that I blame them considering the mess on our ballots.

  3. Mike, you have pointed out a very important fact. Democracy is a system that can be perverted. In the US it is being perverted by corporate interests and billionaires who don’t like the idea that “little” people get to vote. Recall And petitioning look great until you realize that they are used more by corporate interests and billionaires to derail actions taken by legislatures and judges that are protective of people’s rights, human people that is.

    With all its defect democracy is still the best system but it has to be protected from perversion by corporate interests and billionaires
    By limiting the involvement of big money and “legal fictions” in the system.

    Thanks, Mike for this great article. As always you have highlighted a fact that often goes unseen and undiscussed.

  4. “While I believe that most of the supporters of the “Local Initiative” movement have believed they were acting in the cause of spreading democracy, I think they miss the practical reality of how these local initiatives are used against the best interests of democracy. The argument comes down to two issues I think, though I am willing to be corrected.”

    There is a lot of “forest for the trees” that go on in modern politics and I attribute much of it to the woefully inadequate civics education most Americans have. It makes them more susceptible to divisive politics and the idea that we have a national government instead of a Federal government that has to serve all the people’s best interests.

    “The first issue is that the voting process, in this age of information and media saturation, can be rigged by special interests and complex procedures explained disingenuously, to put through essentially anti-democratic measures.”

    Quite true. When you cannot get someone to believe your big lie by indoctrination techniques of propaganda, obfuscation and confusion are the next best fall back tactic. This is ability to mass communicate is a two-edged sword. It can be used to educate, but just so as you note it can be used as a weapon against proper understanding and even democracy itself.

    “The second and more important issue is that the rights of a minority in a democracy should not be abridged by popular will. If these rights can be abridged then the end result will be tyranny.”

    Again, this is a reflection of the general civic ignorance most Americans possess. It is also coupled with the societal trend of selfishness and myopic narcissism that is encouraged in our culture by many vectors, from laissez-faire capitalism to prosperity theology to the sports entitlement culture to the film, television and music industry. Democracy is a team sport in the best sense of the term. For it to work does not mean that everyone gets exactly what they want, but if done cooperatively and most of all intelligently, we all get what is in the best interests of all of society. The “But I’m Special!” culture that flourishes in this country (and is exemplified by those who embrace the neoconservative/Libertarian ideals based in Rand’s ridiculous Objectivism) is antithetical to democracy in the long run.

    Great article, Mike. A good illustration of the consequences of letting amoral corporations – and by their very nature as a legal fiction they are amoral and serve the interests of the amoral and sociopaths like the Kochs – participate unfettered in the political arena. Our civil rights will be taken from us by our own hand if the corporate world has their way.

    The time to act to save democracy is now.

  5. While it is true that I had no clue that such a Campaign was going on, in my defense I was out of State for the entire summer and not paying attention to local affairs.~Mike S.
    I was here all summer and the information available was scarce or overtly-politicized. I too had read the League of Womens Voters take on the amendments and their stance that all the issues had no real standing to be amendments but were actually perverting the process to be enacted or were conflict soup ingredients for staging a bigger fight later….(but I had to dig for this and had friends who also keep up….)’
    And of course, in true Floridian fashion, our illustrious Gov. has circumvented the problem of ease of people’s practicing their civil rights and civic duty and denied extending early voting….guaranteeing hardship to those most probable Democrats who are working during daylight hours…or 3-4 jobs just to survive. I understand the waits were longer than 6 hours for some….and THAT is called partisan poo and I’d rather a Chris Christie than another mean term of Rick ‘Voldemort’ Scott…. HOO-YA!!!!!!

  6. My reality is different. Living in Dane County, Wi. where the DemocratIC party rules, every year I routinely have 5-8 offices where there is only one choice. Our only other option is to write-in. It’s been that way since I moved here in 1983. I previously lived in Chicago where the dynamic was very similar. I’ll take too many choices over none any day.

  7. Chris Christie getting more love here! He’ll be kicked out of bed on Wednesday and you’ll forget you had a fling in a few weeks.

  8. ss What GeneH said, now I was forced to agree, but this is his Jekyll side. Smile. Good work, GeneH. And MikeS too.

    Until we have “citizen exams” to be allowed to vote, then I am against such “citizen initiatives”.

    A minor point: The amendment given in extenso does permit church-run hospitals to refuse to provide services that their morals don’t permit, while blocking the feds from excluding them from fed moneys, I believe, for that reason. A matter for the courts? No matter.

    When can we vote out these corporative shills we have who approve letting corps be persons? If they can in Florida, then why not these bought judges too.

    To finish in a minor key, I wonder if this is not ample proof of the idea that corporate and AynRanders hold dearest? That the people are not competent to govern or to decide on important issues.

    It is an viewpoint which saturates our government too. From the Pentagon which Ellsberg revealed to the steerers of America as H W Bush and the Kochs, to throughout the local/state governments.

    Who knows what cow will be gored by the election of this sheriff? What is he making in his prison system? Or what public lands will be sold to which developer for the right price by this mayor?

    The citizens don’t know, as MikeS demonstrates, and can not know either.

  9. If the neoCons would just leave the good things alone rather than trying to go backwards as far as possible, the voting part of political life would be less convoluted.

  10. Great job Mike. Florida is at the forefront of voter ID nonsense, and as you pointed out, one of the worst in flooding the ballot with confusing and hyperbolic measures. It is true that too much say at the ballot box deprives the issues at hand a full and complete debate and understanding of their importance or lack thereof.

  11. nick spinelli
    1, November 4, 2012 at 12:06 pm
    Chris Christie getting more love here! He’ll be kicked out of bed on Wednesday and you’ll forget you had a fling in a few weeks.
    No, I don’t agree. He is a tad rough round the edges but he demonstrates the balls to both understand the need for AND to implement the ever necessary putting of political partisanship aside to accomplish what the whole of the political sphere is purposed about; governance and protection of ALL the people who are part of this Country….and even those that aren’t when possible….and especially those whose power is given by process to those who are then in a position to lead…and further that promised quality of life….and it isn’t a done deal for Christie either…he will have to show more than once this ability AND the ability to kick the Murdochs to the curb….

  12. It would be great if we could feel comfortable that citizens were appropriately informed about issues. Until schools have good civics courses and a course in critical thinking and analysis of issues, the media will have to take on the burden of making sure all issues are covered, including their applications and implications. “Citizen exams”? I don’t think so. Blacks have been their before. When I hear “civics exams” I think of a question asked on a game show: Is black the absence or presence of all color?” The contestant asked for claification, “Is the question talking about pain oror light because they have opposite answers?” The contestant was given no further info, guessed, and guessed wrong.

  13. In Minnesota the Secretary of State’s office has a service on their web site. You enter your address and they provide an exact sample ballot for your precinct. Its been a real gift as I have never bee surprised by a ballot nor at a loss for who was running. Interestingly enough we actually have teabaggers running for soil and water commission! Fortunately the state GOP was kind enough to point that out in their endorsement for them.

    There are a couple of bad actors (not necessarily baggers or even conservatives just really unqualified) candidates for Judgeship’s this year and google helped me learn about all the candidates.

    There is no good reason your state couldn’t do the same thing, the SoS has to have all the ballots so providing copies on line BEFORE the election is something everyone should demand.

  14. Nick, I have lived in D dominated districts and R dominated districts at different times in my life (oddly I have never lived in a wide open place. The problem is in those cases that really lousy candidates get elected simply because they are in the ‘right’ party. Without the demands of an actual opponent the parties often fail to police themselves.

    You are right, this is a really bad situation. Bad for the parties and worse for the voters.

  15. I have been engaged in this discussion for decades. As many of you know I am a huge supporter of the The League of Women Voters and urge everyone to visit your state’s site for explanation and discussion and often the League’s recommendation as to State issues on your ballot. Initiative Petitions are not a bad thing and it takes very little time to visit a League site and read the break down of pros and cons in order to arrive at a responsible decision when casting one’s ballot. The League only makes recommendations after months of study and analyzing. They do not make a recommendation without a “Study”.

    At the following 2 sites you will see the recommendation the League made for the Initiative Proposed named Issue 2 and their response to the OSBA who came out as opposed to the Issue without proper due diligence.

    The League is recommending passage of Issue 2 The Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Create a State Funded Commission to Draw Legislative and Congressional Initiatives (Proposed by Initiative Petition)

    Following is the open letter sent to the Ohio State Bar Association regarding their opposition to Issue 2.

    Now, if you read the info from the above 2 links then you will know that the League proposed the Initiative and the Bar came out against it without proper research.

    In this case, and many others too numerous to mention, the Initiative Process is vital to a healthy democracy. Educated voters and those willing to take the time to educate themselves thus fulfilling their duty and obligations to this “Grand Experiment” know that.

  16. The Koch’s are everywhere. They were even in the movie Campaign with Will Ferrell. But take heart they went with the Dem when the Repub wouldnt play ball with them.

  17. Doesn’t seem like it would be hard to figure which side of a ballot initiative is the more progressive side..especially if you use heuristics such as where the Koch folks and tea sippers stand. League of Women Voters, I’m not so sure. Do they support having robust debates for P and VP? Would they make a case for why Jill Stein and Gary Johnson should have been at the
    Obama/Romney Really Big Shows?

  18. bill mcwilliams,

    The LWV ran all the debates till a couple decades ago for the very reasons you mention.. Everybody was included and the questions were substantial and to the point. There were rules and strict formats to be followed. The two major parties wanted a show, not a debate, and made demands that the League would not accept. That put an end to educating the voter.

    Both parties were to blame.

  19. my favorite was when JEB! was gov. there was a ballot measure for high speed rail from tampa to orlando to the space coast. it was approved. our fearless leader JEB! decided we did not understand what we had voted for and ran it again during the next election only this time it was worded so that if you approved you had to vote no. oddly enough it didn’t pass.

    it has since been approved with an I-4 extension.


    i didn’t realize that was the reason for the judges recall until late. the teabaggers have a lot more money than the judges.

  20. In NYS we regularly see a referendum for a state constitution convention. I always vote no. The propaganda from the supporters usually picks a particular issue as the reason for the constitution change . However, once a convention is convened, the entire constitution is up for grabs. So far, the referendum has lost, not even close.

    Unless we really pay attention, all we know are the “good” lies told by the candidate and the “bad” lies told by the opponent. And it works for all of them.

    btw, only Dr. Jill Stein has been talking about climate change.

  21. Dr Signe,

    I did not forget the use of literacy exams in the south and how they were administered. And it won’t be easy. But just as credit is not given automatically, except by payday loaners, then the responsibility of qualification must rest somewhere. Where?

    It is a dilemma. What is the solution, and don’t point at the media.

    They copped out years ago. Now it is only corps who rule them.

  22. Blouise and Frankly, Great arguments on the side of personal reaponsibility. It’s a tough sell to make that in this day w/ the internet that there is not enough information to make an informed choice.

  23. What does the LOWV recommendation re Obama vs Romney?

    And the media had their choice and selling shows gets more ads than selling mentally straining debate.

    “Can’t we watch football now?”

    Internet as a info source? Make me laugh NickS.
    Most can’t find anything other than their favo social site. Any studies which disprove this?

    I once shared that hope too. We have left portals and gone to search engines. And Google searchs are a mystery as to how they rank and search. Some odd search works will turn up gold nuggets and other you know what.

  24. “It’s a tough sell to make that in this day w/ the internet that there is not enough information to make an informed choice.”

    Actually, no it’s not. The Web is the Wild Wild West of information. While there is enough information out there to make an informed choice, not everyone has the skill (or the time) to know how to properly vet information and/or they may lack the critical thinking skills to analyze good information should they get it. Information is just data. Without analysis, it will never become integrated knowledge. This does not even consider the issue of volume. Too much information can cause analytical paralysis just as easily as not enough information. Yeah, personal responsibility is all well and good, but you have to keep in mind the scope of the problem is larger than simply personal responsibility in taking the time to find out information. It includes knowing what to do with it once you’ve got it.

  25. Gene,

    Is quite right about the information being available, but not easily available. In researching this piece I had a bit of difficulty finding out where
    the funding for IRI comes from, although I had some dyspeptic suspicions, which is why I made no inference that it was not a dispassionate player, in the guest blog itself.

  26. Knowledge is power. Do we dumb things down and have less democracy because people are stupid? That seems to be the solution proposed. It is a paternalistic remedy. I would think the smartest guy on this blog, if not in the world, would be in favor of raising the bar, not lowering it.

  27. Nick,

    Many people of all parts of the political spectrum see the mass of people as dumb. I don’t believe that. I think the problem lies is in an intentional dumbing down of the American public via our public education system and through the propaganda and mythology of the American Dream, as promoted by our corporate controlled media. In this piece my point was that even I as a highly educated and politically involved individual was unaware of the hoax these amendments represent. I must also mention that I’ m retired so I have the leisure to check these things out. When you have an underpaid workforce, people struggling to remain in the middle class, they become easily manipuliable. It’s not stupidity so much as it is exhaustion.

  28. Overstimulation, surplus of fast carbos (sugar) etc lead to nervous exhaustion, not to mention working and worrying’s influence.

    Who is dumbing down Nick? Anybody here? Who?

    Come on, abandon your libertarian fortress. We are social creatures and just because some are power freaks we still have room for most. for a little while till at least. It is these power freaks who compete who are doing us in.

    Here’s a food blog link for you. Let me know how you like it.

  29. Florida voters report they feel “exhausted” after waiting six hours to vote. It is hard to imagine that a governor would have such little regard for the citizens of his state. As bad as old Rick Perry is, he has not done something like this. Of course, Texas is not in play so he has no reason to. Nick, maybe Christie will get tired of republican extremism and voter suppression and crossover to the dems like Charlie Christ did.

  30. We are always ready stories on this blog about the stuff Karzai does. Well, Rick Scott is right up there with him

  31. Mike we are mostly in agreement. The internet has changed the world, mostly for the good. Serendipitously, I was a bit ahead of the curve w/ people our age. I went back to college in the late 90’s to get my teaching certification and was immersed in the internet. It was love @ first sight because I love information. I also know people do what is important to them. You can’t make people want to be informed, you can only provide them the opportunity. Those informed will make good decisions not just politically, but in every aspect of their life.

    Mike, I see homeless people in public libraries reading newspapers, blogs, college websites, etc. And, I see middle class people just watching reality tv. Information is available to all, which is the key. If it were just available to the wealthy I would have a much different take. It has been my belief that it will all even out soon. There are too many people of our age who are internet ignorant, which is on them. But, in a few decades those folks will be dead. Then it is going to get very interesting and I am very optimistic for the future because of that. I appreciate the post. We somewhat differ philosophically on this topic, but I do agree that folks who are struggling to get by have a disadvantage in being informed. However, I then go back to we do what is important to us. As my Uncle Charlie would tell me, when the job is hard you must simply work harder.

  32. SWM, Interesting take on Christie. Crist and Christie do have some similarities. However, the way Christie took on the teacher’s union in NJ probably makes him a pariah w/ them, and the teacher’s union is a powerful force in Dem politics. They’ve held their noses regarding Obama’s policies, but I doubt they would budge one inch on Christie.

  33. Nick,

    Uncle Charlie had another starting point in another world than now, assuming he was a working man of course. The Repugs and one percenters would love him now. That has been their message for decades now: You just have to work harder and you too can be a millionaire.

    Good night all. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

    Otherwise we will not have FEMA, EPA, ACA, MEDICAID, MEDICARE, Roe vs Wade, health care for poor women (Romney thinks all things can be fixed in the ER), you name it—-they are going to take it away, just like they did with your funded pensions. How are your 401k’s doing. My niece lost 5 years retirement in tha last bust on WS.

  34. ID, Hard work is not a political philosophy. It is a way of life. Uncle Charlie would also say, “The only job you should be ashamed of is a job poorly done.” Uncle Charlie never aspired to be a millionaire. All he wanted was a better life for his children and grandchildren; which he achieved. Charlie Giammateo came to the US w/ nothing. He worked as a janitor, went to school @ night, and became an engineer for GM. He was not jealous of millionaires nor did disparage them. He judged people by their character, not their income. Sleep well, ID.

  35. Mike…..surely this topic is apt….. If you don’t agree with someone you slander them…. If that doesn’t work you eliminate them….. If that doesn’t work you start another group to eliminate the very thing you could not do all by yourself….. If I sound slanted…. You’re right…. Think about it buddy…. You complain about what you are involved in….It works many ways…… From politics to so called friendships….

  36. Mike,

    Thank you for a thought provoking post. I thought I had a complete view of this topic, but you have given me good reason to pause and reconstruct my perspective.

  37. @Mike: I think another, separate problem is the time pressure on regular voters.That is not exactly the “voting process” you mentioned, but if you overwhelm most people with 20 or more issues to vote on, they do not have the time to educate themselves.

    Wishing they would take the time isn’t going to work; besides 9 hours spent at work they have life maintenance to do, grocery shopping, bill paying, house cleaning, yard work and endless errands take priority. The time it would take to learn the ballot would be carved from what little leisure time exists with friends and family. Unless you can instill a culture of deep politics as a hobby (which I think impossible) the vast majority of the nation is not going to bother with the ballot past the first page; or they will vote at random, or on with the best slogan.

    All of those outcomes benefit small groups pushing for such laws, they are typically one-sided (meaning no organized group has recognized what they are doing and is trying to oppose them), so a good slogan can help a few percent of voters pass a law that advances their agenda (which may be self-benefit) at the expense of society.

    There is more than one solution to this problem, but all would call for changes in how the vote is interpreted.

    I believe a good way would be to count all skipped votes on a ballot as a vote for “no change to current practice” (which I have seen requiring a “No” vote on some issues and a “Yes” vote on others). That is something voters could remember; I think, and most of these obscure issues would be shot down. My rationale is

    A) Predicated upon the idea that the proposed change is Constitutional and is in fact the type of issue voters should decide, not a question of rights;

    B) Given (A), if the voter is not even aware of the issue, and the wording of the proposed change does not convince them to explicitly vote for change, then the current practice was not onerous to them.

    I believe in uniform minority protection (by rights, courts, and police) but I do not believe in minority RULE, and that is what happens when a few percent of people get their way.

    Time pressure on tests in school is not an accurate measure of subject mastery; anybody can be overwhelmed by too many questions. A colleague of mine, when devising his tests, ensures he (knowing the answers) can read and write the entire test in half the time allowed for the test, because he wants to measure mastery. Give HIM his own test with ten times as many questions and HE would flunk it; he could not read and write fast enough to finish it, even having every answer ready.

    Time pressure on voting is similar; overwhelming voters with questions does not result in democracy, it results in the opposite.

    In some sense representative Democracy is justified by precisely this kind of problem; at some point the questions facing society become so numerous and complex that it really is a full time job to be informed on them, and it becomes worth paying somebody to understand the issues and make such decisions; much as we pay lawyers to represent us, understand issues, and act in our best interest.

  38. “@Mike: I think another, separate problem is the time pressure on regular voters.That is not exactly the “voting process” you mentioned, but if you overwhelm most people with 20 or more issues to vote on, they do not have the time to educate themselves.”


    Exactly right and it was in my thinking, but I didn’t make it clear. When I voted last week I was on line for 90 minutes before I got in. The ballot was three, doubled-sided pages, sized about 11″ x 18″ and to actually vote you had to complete a straight line of about 1/4 inch between two outward facing arrows. After that you had to personally feed the ballots into a ballot reading machine. Considering the wait, the crowd inside the hall, the noise and the process, you can imagine it was difficult for anyone who didn’t know all the issues in advance to make decisions on Constitutional Amendments. For me being retired the time was o real factor though I did feel pressured. for someone still working I imagine that they would be tired and then overwhelmed. This is not the best way to decide issues of importance.

  39. “The early-voting debacle in the Sunshine State is deliberate. To treat this as the unfortunate result of ineptitude is to miss the point — Florida Republicans designed the system to work this way.

    For Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and GOP policymakers in the state, this is a feature, not a bug. Republicans cut the number of early-voting days in half, on purpose. They prevented early voting on the Sunday before the election, on purpose. Scott, unlike the previous two Republican governors, ignored calls to expand voting hours, on purpose.

    GOP policymakers want long lines; they want to make it very difficult for voters to participate in their own democracy; they want Americans to get discouraged and walk away. As one Republican state lawmaker argued after the 2010 election, “I want the people in the State of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who is willing to walk 200 miles for that opportunity he’s never had before in his life. This should not be easy.”
    Maddow blog

  40. Making a process – in this case the voting process – as cumbersome as possible is the real world analog of the propaganda tactic of obfuscation in many ways.

  41. Mike S.,

    We have a lot of people who are not educators trying to “dumb down” public education in this country. They push for the teaching of creationism in science class…revise state history frameworks for ideological and political reasons, etc. We have political leaders who are anti-science. Please don’t lay the majority of the blame at the feet of the educational system. The push to focus much of the educational process on prepping children for high stakes testing came mostly from groups outside of education.There are groups in this country whose aim is to see public education privatized. There are plenty of kids who still get a quality education in this country.


    14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools
    By Deanna Pan
    Tue Aug. 7, 2012

    Thanks to a new law privatizing public education in Louisiana, Bible-based curriculum can now indoctrinate young, pliant minds with the good news of the Lord—all on the state taxpayers’ dime.

    Under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program, considered the most sweeping in the country, Louisiana is poised to spend tens of millions of dollars to help poor and middle-class students from the state’s notoriously terrible public schools receive a private education. While the governor’s plan sounds great in the glittery parlance of the state’s PR machine, the program is rife with accountability problems that actually haven’t been solved by the new standards the Louisiana Department of Education adopted two weeks ago.

    For one, of the 119 (mostly Christian) participating schools, Zack Kopplin, a gutsy college sophomore who’s taken to to stonewall the program, has identified at least 19 that teach or champion creationist nonscience and will rake in nearly $4 million in public funding from the initial round of voucher designations.

    Many of these schools, Kopplin notes, rely on Pensacola-based A Beka Book curriculum or Bob Jones University Press textbooks to teach their pupils Bible-based “facts,” such as the existence of Nessie the Loch Ness Monster and all sorts of pseudoscience that researcher Rachel Tabachnick and writer Thomas Vinciguerra have thankfully pored over so the rest of world doesn’t have to.

    Here are some of my favorite lessons:

    1. Dinosaurs and humans probably hung out: “Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years.”—Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

    2. Dragons were totally real: “[Is] it possible that a fire-breathing animal really existed? Today some scientists are saying yes. They have found large chambers in certain dinosaur skulls…The large skull chambers could have contained special chemical-producing glands. When the animal forced the chemicals out of its mouth or nose, these substances may have combined and produced fire and smoke.”—Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

    3. “God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ.”—America: Land That I Love, Teacher ed., A Beka Book, 1994

    4. Africa needs religion: “Africa is a continent with many needs. It is still in need of the gospel…Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write. In some areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have taken over the government.”—Old World History and Geography in Christian Perspective, 3rd ed., A Beka Book, 2004


    Historians speak out against proposed Texas textbook changes
    By Michael Birnbaum
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Historians on Tuesday criticized proposed revisions to the Texas social studies curriculum, saying that many of the changes are historically inaccurate and that they would affect textbooks and classrooms far beyond the state’s borders.

    The changes, which were preliminarily approved last week by the Texas board of education and are expected to be given final approval in May, will reach deeply into Texas history classrooms, defining what textbooks must include and what teachers must cover. The curriculum plays down the role of Thomas Jefferson among the founding fathers, questions the separation of church and state, and claims that the U.S. government was infiltrated by Communists during the Cold War.

    Because the Texas textbook market is so large, books assigned to the state’s 4.7 million students often rocket to the top of the market, decreasing costs for other school districts and leading them to buy the same materials.

    “The books that are altered to fit the standards become the bestselling books, and therefore within the next two years they’ll end up in other classrooms,” said Fritz Fischer, chairman of the National Council for History Education, a group devoted to history teaching at the pre-college level. “It’s not a partisan issue, it’s a good history issue.”

  42. Nick S.

    Nice story of your Uncle G. And he confirms my point in that he succeeded through hard work, and for all I remember so did you the same way. But we are talking about what society we have. And just as common workers
    were not “encouraged” to become engineers then, most are hindered more so today. A broader spectrum by a broader assortment of hinders.

    You are perhaps right. I am also joined by many, which is irrelevant in itself, who believe it is the corporate near fascistic society which is to blame.

    Your uncle came here expecting that hard work and education would be rewarded. Few of those born here, in the last decades and who belong to the lower 47 percent, have such hopes.

    Are they correct in their assessment? Or is it possible to work, get a night class education, and continue on a successful career?

    Stats say no to the latter. One man’s job will not support a family any more. Two does it barely, and not then for those doing 3 or 4 jobs parttime to put the pieces together.

    It was not easy for your Uncle, god bless him—-but I think it is harder today. And they made it so.

    Your thoughts are always welcome as they are good-spirited.

  43. Skip the whole exercise. Do it at home, your job or the nearest on-line terminal in your coffee shop/library, etc.

    Requirement: One national ID number. One access code mailed to your home address or available on-line if you have a secure on-line ID confireming that it is you at the terminal.

    Open 24/7, anyplace on-line.

    Your permanent registered address assures you get the right ballot, for advance study/viewing, and that your
    vote will be delivered to the automatic guaranteed accurate counting system.

    Start soft, merge in and replace old systems over 10 year period. That is how we can file tax returns here.

  44. Woosty,

    Good news on absentee ballot given out and received.
    Bad news; I heard that some instances have received directives that lead to rejection later of all of them.

    Double edged sword: many repugs like absentee balloting.
    So remains pure fraudulent discarding/rejection based on color of person voting—is that possible?

  45. @Idealist: I know a little too much about computers and code to ever trust them to be bug-free or corruption-free. Even open-source code like Linux, with tens of thousands of eyes on it, can still contain a bug that crashes the system. Even hardware like Intel, with dozens of checks and rechecks on every circuit by trained engineers being purposely skeptical before they commit millions of dollars to a production run can have bugs in it.

    The idea of entrusting an election to an electronic device is just laughable to me; and the more we do it the more we open the elections to outright fraud and fabrication that will never be discovered.

    When it comes to business and dealing with real people, nothing on Earth beats a hard copy paper trail, it is the hardest to change, or forge, and the easiest to both secure and to verify.

    Electronics are for convenience and should never be applied in circumstances where the data is impossible to independently verify AND there is an incentive to flip some bits once in a while.

    That is what you have in voting. If the machine says that 50.1% of people voted for A and 49.9% voted for B, how in the world can you ever know if that is the truth, or some hacker installed a self-deleting virus that flipped votes to make sure A was always 10 votes ahead of B, and deleted itself one second before the polls closed?

    If you do not think that is possible, it has already been done with a Diebold machine in a university lab. The day we start voting on the Internet is the day we stop being a democracy and start being ruled by hackers and those that pay them.

  46. TonyC.,

    Thanks for the comment. Before I start a longwinded reply let me quote you and say that that is reality, PERHAPS, but going back to paper has been proven no good so many times so why try that way? Let us face the future and not be reactionary—not as an ad hominem, but an descriptive term with conventional meaning.

    “The day we start voting on the Internet is the day we stop being a democracy and start being ruled by hackers and those that pay them.”

    The problem of internal or external hacker abuse is not a little problem. But our government agencies of highly secretive and supposedly important nature use
    software controlled mission achievement,
    So why can we not achieve the same degree of safety from tampering?

    Unless, we are deceived the international banking systems have unhacked systems. Or they are covering up the “leakage”.

    In a software system for a multiple race ballot, you would need to compartmentalize it. Do code checking and auditing of extreme form, and prevent external routines (handling outer shells) from intruding and causing the problems you anticipate. I have not worked with software since 1973. So how one would/could achieve it today is beyond a certain answer from me.

    I have done, as needed, machine coding via the binary panel to solve external I/O adapter faults to resolve program vs hardware interfacing problems. So I am no novice by the scales then—and this was in a real time machine. I have stood alone with a machine on Christmas day to get some time for program checking when resources were scarce—-and faced the problem of an OS which had a halflife of two minutes.

    Your knowledge is certainly superior to mine, but we do have “critical mission” systems, like the nuclear lauuch system, and so far no one has started WW3.

    Again start small. At a progressive state level. Guidance from existing mission critical systems would help. It has to be proof from tampering.
    And we always have the encryption systems to use to assure the validity of what is received. So no node along the way can damage the content.

    Best regards.

  47. PS Everyday we live we entrust our fates to traffic lights, light switches, doctors who operate hearts, and the ways of quantum physics, whose percentages we think we know.

    Now we are forced to trust Governors, election official, voting disinformation, voting locale noise and contention makers and finally voting system frauds.

    We need a change. We did it with many applications including all our savings, 401Ks etc. So why not try.
    This human hunned and hampered system has got to go.

  48. “Electronics are for convenience and should never be applied in circumstances where the data is impossible to independently verify AND there is an incentive to flip some bits once in a while.”


  49. @Idealist: We trust our lives to traffic lights because there is no real incentive to hack them (and even so, people have still done it.) We trust lives to MRI machines, pacemakers, drug pumps, heart and vital sign monitors in hospitals, oxygen concentration sensors and more because (short of murder) there is no incentive to be hacking them. Nobody is going to earn millions or gain power over millions by make 2% of the pixels in an MRI show wrong, or by hacking into a robotic surgical tool. It isn’t that these cannot be hacked, the issue is whether you can change the course of the country (and the world) by hacking them; and the answer is “not even close.”

    I too have programmed at the bit fiddling level for quite a long time; and given what I personally have with and to hardware, and seen done with it, I do not trust computers counting votes. The ways of hacking are legion and I really do not believe anybody can think of all the ways.

    I think we have a better chance of security, and discovering fraud, with physical ballots.

    If I were designing a system I would use the Internet in one way: I would have a paper ballot with a carbon, and every ballot (and carbon) would have a unique number on it. You file the original and take your carbon with you; and what we post on the Internet (and in print at the courthouse) is all the ballot numbers that voted for A, and all the ballot numbers that voted for B. If you want, you can go check for your voting station that you are listed in the right column, and file a protest if you are not.

    I think enough people would do that to keep them honest; if enough protests added up, the physical ballots would be recounted publicly.

    The problems with hanging chads, faint marks, and all of that are MUCH easier to solve than the problem of vanishing information: That is what happens with electronic machines, there is absolutely zero causal link between what is shown on the screen and what is in the memory of the computer, and even that is discarded. There is no assurance whatsoever that the total remotely reflects reality, and there never will be.

  50. Tony C: “The day we start voting on the Internet is the day we stop being a democracy and start being ruled by hackers and those that pay them.”

    I too am of that opinion but I think that day, in possibly some less perfect form, is here with our current version of electronic voting which as you alluded, are eminently hackable. It is IMO difficult to currently hack an election where there is a landslide (2008) but much easier in a close election. Voter suppression is valuable in and of itself but it has (again IMO) the virtue of making hacking an election easier.

    “Why Was Uncertified ‘Experimental’ Software Installed on ES&S Tabulation Systems in 39 OH Counties Just Days Before Presidential Election?

    By Brad Friedman on 11/5/2012 5:35am PT
    [This article has been cross-posted by Salon…]

    “Last week, Bob Fitrakis and Gerry Bello at reported an important story concerning what they described as “uncertified ‘experimental’ software patches” being installed at the last minute on electronic vote tabulation systems in 39 Ohio counties which service more than 4 million voters Buckeye State voters.

    The story included a copy of the contract [PDF] between Republican Ohio Sec. of State Jon Husted’s office and ES&S, the nation’s largest e-voting system manufacturer, for a new, last minute piece of software created to the custom specifications of the Sec. of State. The contract itself describes the software as “High-level enhancements to ES&S’ election reporting software that extend beyond the current features and functionality of the software to facilitate a custom-developed State Election Results Reporting File. ….

    On Friday evening, at Huffington Post, journalist Art Levine followed up with a piece that, among other things, advanced the story by breaking the news that Fitrakis and his attorney Cliff Arnebeck were filing a lawsuit for an immediate injunction against Husted and ES&S to “halt the use of secretly installed, unauthorized ‘experimental’ software in 39 counties’ tabulators”. Levine also reported that Arnebeck had referred the matter to the Cincinnati FBI for criminal investigation of what the Ohio attorney describes as “a flagrant violation of the law.”

    “Before you add new software, you need approval of a state board,” says Arnebeck. “They are installing an uncertified, suspect software patch that interfaces between the county’s vote tabulation equipment and state tabulators.” Arnebeck’s alarm is understandable ….”

    Just look up these guys:

    Mike Connel, dead in a small pane crash:

    “•The contracts between OH Sec. of State Blackwell and Connell, on behalf of GovTech, contradict his testimony that SMARTech, a highly partisan rightwing outfit in Chattanooga, TN, “merely acted as a backup site for election data”. SMARTech owns the servers where Ohio’s election night reporting system was mysteriously transfered to in the middle of the night as the country was waiting for final results in 2004. The setup allowed for a potential “man-in-the-middle” hack of the data. The contract shows that Connell’s company and/or Blackwell had direct remote access to both server systems on Election Night),”

    Raymond Lemme, dead by suicide:

    “Lemme was the first official from the FL Inspector General’s office to investigate the charges originally made by Curtis’ 2001 whistleblower complaint.”

    Clint Curtis:

    “….claims that he designed and built a “vote rigging” software program at the behest of then Florida Congressman, now U.S. Congressman, Republican Tom Feeney of Florida’s 24th Congressional District.”

    These are old stories from Ohio and Florida, there have been years for the GOP and their operatives to regroup and do the job of hacking the vote more effectively and more broadly.

    And just for S’s&G’s, computer voting has come early to Ohio:

    “Dirty Tricks: iPad ‘Vote at Home’ Suppression Scheme Reported in Ohio”

    “Here come the dirty tricks. This one courtesy of Ohio’s Plunderbund…”

    An Obama volunteer in Greene County reports some mysterious canvassing activity whereby people are coming by asking if the resident has voted and if not offering them the fraudulent ability to vote in their doorway via an iPad. …”

  51. @Lotta: I read a story a few years ago (around the 2010 election) in which the California elections board, as an experiment with the local university, set up a few Diebold voting machines as they normally would, and a few computer scientists specializing in Internet security would try to hack the “vote.” They broke in within 15 minutes, using a program that tries for hundreds of known weaknesses until it finds one; they rewrote the vote on each machine to a pre-agreed upon total and the election officials could not tell they had been hacked — Except that nobody had ever touched the machines; before the experiment they had zero votes, fifteen minutes later the CS guys reported they were done, and the voting officials retrieved the data and it was as if thousands of people had voted on each machine, with exactly the totals desired.

    I do not know how computers acquired this reputation for accuracy and infallibility in such mythic proportions. But then again, sometimes I think America just gets the grief we deserve for being sooooo relentlessly stupid.

  52. What is even worse Tony is ask a decent sample space of both adults and teens the question “Do computers think?”

    You’ll be revolted at how many say yes.

  53. @Woosty: Gene is right, that was funny. And apropos, considering the mental age one must be stuck in to buy that Aynish crap.

  54. Mike S., I finally had a chance to read your post and the thread. You did a great job (and I know it took a lot of work) of illustrating the insanity that reigns in Florida politics.

    I recently posted on the retention debacle. Ironically, the ballot initiative that started all of the Tea Party efforts in 2010 is once again on the ballot. It is a totally pointless expression of legislative disdain for the Affordable Care Act. All three justices will be retained, but only after months of needless campaigning and millions of dollars in expenditures.

    When I received my sample ballot several weeks ago, I quickly decided to vote no on all of the proposed constitutional amendments. Besides the fact that a number of them are truly reprehensible, as your post noted, Florida Repubicans have been treating the constitution as though it were some sort of legislative dart board. Pure reactionary nonsense, all emanating from a veto-proof Republican majority and a governor who has accomplished nothing other than turning the election process into a shambles.

    You will recall, as I do, that for most of our lives Democrats and Republicans agreed that the goal should be to expand suffrage and make the voting process easier. The election of a black president conjured in the minds of rich, old white guys a vision, nightmare really, of hordes of poor black people rushing to the polls to return to the days of Reconstruction, with demands for 40 acres and a mule. If anyone can offer a more credible explanation for the recent rash of voter ID laws and reduced early voting periods, I’m ready to listen, but in my view they are simply substitutes for poll taxes and literacy tests in order to pass constitutional muster.

    In any event, I intended to vote last Saturday at the Winter Park Public Library, the designated early voting location where I live. Unfortunately, a bomb scare closed the place down. Lawyers for the Democratic Party had to file a quicky suit and secure a quicky court order to force an extension of early voting to include four hours on Sunday.

    I couldn’t make it, so I voted today. Early this morning I found the longest lines I have ever seen at my polling place, so I returned this afternoon and had no wait problems. But I’m glad I didn’t get in line this morning. The ballot, as you know, consisted of three very large pages, front and back. In addition to the national, state and local races, there were of course all of the proposed amendments. My ballot also had a series of proposed amendments to the Orange County Charter. A number of people who had been filling in their ballots when I arrived hadn’t completed the process by the time I left. However, I saw only one poll watcher and no representatives from Screw the Vote. I think they’re hanging out mainly at the mostly black precincts.

    I hesitated only over the selection of the Orange County Tax Collector. I had planned on voting for the incumbent, a Democrat who had held that office, as far as I can tell, since sometime around the presidency of Warren G. Harding. My hesitation related to the fact that although his name was on the ballot, he actually died a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have a problem with the occasional dead person voting, but I balk at the notion of voting for a dead person. That is not to say that he won’t be re-elected anyway. Besides, given the nature of that job, a deceased person might be as satisfactory as the alternative.

  55. Mike,

    We certainly live in one damn crazy state, but this time it got some things right in the election and in the Constitutional Initiatives. I’m strangely proud of Florida this morning. It exceeded my expectations. Next we need to get rid of Rick Scott.

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