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. 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. …”

  2. @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.

  3. 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.

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

  5. 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.

    • 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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