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: http://www.thefloridavoter.org/resources/issues/2012-constitutional-amendments . Also see here: http://thefloridavoter.org/files/download/508 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: http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Florida_Religious_Freedom,_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: http://www.iandrinstitute.org/statewide_i%26r.htm .
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: http://www.iandrinstitute.org/ 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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_8#Ruling
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:
Anti direct democracy
Please read them and let us know where you stand.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.