Sunday, January 13, 2008

Propositions, initiatives and referenda - how to decide?

The initiative process, employed in many states, is the power of the people to place measures on the ballot. These measures can create or change statutes (including general obligation bonds) and amend the state constitution. All states have requirements regarding how many signatures of registered voters must be obtained to place an initiative on the ballot.

A referendum is the power of the people to approve or reject statutes adopted by a state legislature. In each state voters wishing to block implementation of an adopted statute are also required to produce a number of signatures by registered voters in support of placing the matter on the ballot; the number of required signatures varies by states. If voters cast more ‘no’ votes than ‘yes’ votes, the law is defeated.

In some states initiatives are called ‘propositions’.

Sometimes there are numerous initiatives on the ballot; usually there are fewer referenda. Very often, whether an initiative or referendum, the wording is difficult to parse and as a result, advertising by proponents or opponents generally affects the outcome. In these cases deciding whether to vote for or against an initiative, or proposition, is difficult to determine.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for state officials to use wording to describe initiatives and referenda according to their voting preferences. For example, the wording may give the impression that a vote for or against does not clearly reflect the decision by the voter, either pro or con regarding the initiative or referendum, the opposite being true. Many court cases have been filed in attempts to have the wording to be placed on a ballot clarified.

So the question becomes how to decide? How can someone decide to vote for or against an initiative (proposition) or referendum?

A useful guide to use when the matter to be voted upon is not clear to the voter is who is for or against the initiative or referendum. Usually voter guides distributed by the state in advance of an election contain information or comments by proponents and opponents.

If you are a conservative red flags are raised when some organizations recommend a position concerning an item on the ballot. Here are my suggestions in evaluating an initiative of referendum:
  • In my opinion most things the NEA (National Education Association) or the state’s federation of teachers is for, I am generally against.
  • When a state officer, such as the governor, is someone with whom I disagree a lot, that officer’s recommendation is not acceptable and I would vote against the matter.
  • Sometimes an organization or person personally benefits from a no or yes vote, that’s a good reason to vote the opposite.
  • Positions of unions and similar organizations often have reasons to favor or oppose a matter; very often such positions are to the singular benefit of members (or the union leaders) and against the interests of conservatives and the public and should cause a vote opposite to the position recommended by them.
  • If you are in favor of private property rights, it is prudent to be skeptical of recommendations by environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, PETA, and even the EPA.
  • I vote against anything favored by the ACLU, and vive versa.
  • Recommendations by organizations of police, law enforcement and firefighters are more difficult to assess. On economic matters these organizations favor matters that benefit members personally and not necessarily the public. Also, positions by police and law enforcement organizations are usually unfavorable to gun ownership rights and must be scrutinized carefully.
  • Positions of tax payer organizations may be also difficult to assess unless there is a history of any of these groups having views on initiatives and referenda with which you generally agree.

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