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: 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:

Pro-direct democracy

http://www.iandrinstitute.org/7-Matsusaka.pdf

Anti direct democracy

http://groups.law.gwu.edu/lr/ArticlePDF/80-2-Stearns.pdf

 Please read them and let us know where you stand.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.

71 thoughts on “Too Much Democracy?”

  1. @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.

  2. “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.”

    Word.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. @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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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
    http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars

    Excerpt:
    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 Change.org 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
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/17/AR2010031700560.html

    Excerpt:
    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.”

  10. 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.

  11. “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

  12. @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.

    1. “@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.”

      Tony,

      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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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….

  15. pete9999
    1, November 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm
    —–

    i guess i need to update. i think of rick scott as skeletor.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skelator
    ———————————-
    oooooh, he looks nifty too….shades of disc world….thanks for that tip, I’ll look him up!

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