Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ballot Initiative Season Has Begun, and it's Not Exactly a Good Thing

By Associate Clinical Professor Jessica Levinson

[This post originally appeared on KCET's SoCal Focus Blog.]

Ready, set, go. Ballot initiative season is officially upon us. The 11 (yes, 11) ballot initiatives that we will be voting on in November now have numbers, which means the fundraising race will kick into high gear. Expect many advertisements via your television, radio, mailbox and likely your computer screen as well.

We will be voting on tax increases (courtesy of Governor Jerry Brown, attorney Molly Munger and billionaire Tom Steyer), changes to the budget process, how labor unions and corporations can spend money in elections, auto insurance rates, the death penalty, human trafficking, the three-strikes law and the labeling of genetically modified food.

We are simply weighing in on too many decisions via a flawed process.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The ballot initiative process is riddled with problems. As it currently stands it does not provide citizens with a good process to make vitally important decisions about the laws that govern us.

The ballot initiative process asks voters to make crucially important decisions in isolation. Our government is too big and too complex to make decisions on a piecemeal basis.

In addition, it is entirely rational for each voter to vote in favor of more services and against revenue increases. The ballot initiative process does not require that voters weigh the consequence of their decisions. Further, voters are accountable only to themselves, not a group of constituents, so quite reasonably may make decisions for their benefit.

The idea behind the ballot initiative process -- to empower citizens to enact legislation when the legislature couldn't or wouldn't act because of the power of special interests -- was a good one. However, moneyed interests, not grassroots organizations, now control the initiative process. This is bad for the voters and bad for the state.

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