There is a guy in Washington State that makes his living by thinking up anti-tax initiatives and getting them on the ballot. He has cooked up another one for this fall’s election, and the local paper’s editorial board has opined that it should be allowed to go ahead, even though it is undoubtedly unconstitutional, because it would be a test of the will of the people.
No, it would not!
Consider that, roughly speaking, about 74% of eligible voters are actually registered to vote. Voter turnout tends to be a tad under 50% of registered voters, often a good deal less. That means that about 37% of eligible voters will take the time to vote, and about 18% will be on the wining side. You can argue with me on the numbers, but they won’t be too far off. The point is, that’s not much of a test of the will of the people.
Add to those dismal numbers the fact that most who do vote will not have read the voter information packet sent out by the state. Indeed they will have read little or nothing about the initiative. Their votes will be driven by emotional reactions to what they have heard from others, or possibly by who had the most persuasive ad on television.
Let’s face it. The electorate tends to be lazy, uninformed, and easily distracted by shiny objects and squirrels. I wish that wasn’t true, but for the time being it is.
I want my public policy decisions made by elected representatives who, hopefully, have read, studied, and understood the consequences of legislative proposals. If not directly, at least they have a chance of being guided by competent staff. To be sure, paid and citizen lobbyists will hound them from every side, but those lobbyists are also well informed, having studied the issues in depth on behalf of their clients. In the end, the whole thing gets hammered out through vigorous debates in committee, between committees, in the houses, and between the houses.
It doesn’t always work well. It’s a messy business fraught with opportunities for misfeasance. There are enough stories to go around to prove the point. Yet, it is more sound than decisions made by an emotionally driven poorly informed minority of voters. And that’s the reason I am not a fan of the initiative process.