Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ballot Bill Puts Hiss in Hysteria

Senate Bill No. 459, AN ACT EXPANDING FINANCIAL REPORTING REQUIREMENTS AND INFORMATION AVAILABLE FOR VOTERS REGARDING BALLOT INITIATIVES is suddenly hot in the same-sex-marriage circle of friends and foes.

On the face of it, the aims are simple and fair. In fact, much like the bottle bill, this is a reaction to long-term abuse. This time, it's not the litterbugs, rather unscrupulous professional petition signature gathers. For example, an effort to ban same-sex marriages by constitutional amendment in 2001, failed by a small number, even though hired-guns seemed to have pulled in more than they needed. Widespread reports included such fraud as telling signers that the petition prohibited local horses from being sent to out-of-state abattoirs. Who wants to murder Trigger?

The bill requires obvious identification of paid gatherers. It limits the number of ballot questions one firm can handle by time. It charges the Secretary of State with governing the conduct of paid gatherers. It would also list the name, address and employer of each $5,000-and-up contributor.

The reactions of the most irrational and emotional groups, such as the Citizens for Limited Taxation, are predictable and amusing. We recommend reading every lurid word. Meanwhile, get a sense from:
They've always detested the constitutional ability of the unwashed masses, from time to time when nothing else worked, to end-run the hoi-polloi and powers-that-be; for us peons to make our own laws, repeal bad ones imposed upon us, on our own...

This insidious attack instead will simply need a majority in the Legislature to kill the right of the people -- by making the rules and requirements to comply impossible to ever meet..

Can you imagine the chilling effect on signing a petition -- if you know your name and address will be immediately posted, that wild-eyed opponents will begin harassment of you as soon as they get their corrupt hands on The List, publicly disclosed by this proposed law?..
Forgetting the misuse of hoi polloi, one must wonder whether these screamers have any respect for the intellect of the public. Their arguments are much like the bait-and-switch of the horse slaughtering.

This bill may come out of the Joint Committee on Election Laws this week, favorably.

If it becomes law, it would decidedly mean that the present sloppy and unethical options in signature gathering would change. We suspect that interest groups of all stripes would have to attract and train volunteers. This would largely remove the financial incentive for petition fraud. On the other hand, until such organizations are in place, getting issues before the legislature and the voters would be tougher.

It looks like a good trade-off, affecting everyone equally and improving the honesty of the process. A short-term negative for a large long-term benefit.

Now the question comes whether these precious voter initiatives are so good after all.

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