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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. “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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. Bron, “But take heart they went with the Dem when the Repub wouldnt play ball with them.”…..?

  17. 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.

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