Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mass Ballot Questions -- Slow Down

In the bumping battle of the behemoths, big liquor won over super-sized supermarkets. Actually all three statewide ballot initiatives lost, but Question 1 that would permit food stores to apply for wine licenses seemed to have the greatest interest.

It was also the only question that people understood.

The main opponents to 1 were liquor wholesalers and beer distributors, who cherish their near monopoly deals with liquor stores. On the other side, the equally powerful supermarket chains did not make their case on cases of wine clearly enough. Voters bought into Chicken Little-style claims of bodies on the highways and drunken teens in an updated version of Reefer Madness.

Unfortunately, the other two questions were not plain enough for voters. The fusion voting one, Question 2, almost certainly would have had no short-term impact and arguably very little long-term one. Its proponents made wild claims that it would force the big-party candidates to deal with substantive issues. Uh huh, righto.

Oddly enough, it seemed to have lost on the most embarrassing basis, that Massachusetts voters are too stupid to do it. Perhaps typical was State Senator Dianne Wilkerson's comment in a recent El Mundo guest editorial (apparently not online) concentrated on ballot questions 1 and 2. She was opposed to 1, apparently because she doesn't drink. She urged defeat of 2 because it would confuse voters.

Really, fusion voting is not hard. Certainly, understanding most ballot initiatives is much more difficult. Yet, just using the word "confuse" seemed to be enough to defeat fusion voting. I envision polling places filled with Abe Simpson characters careering off each other in their addle-headedness.

We contend that instant run-off voting is what would have the greatest positive impact here, but fusion voting works in New York and elsewhere, as a modest incremental improvement. Yet, the many who claim we're too dumb for fusion voting would put their fingers in their ears and chant at anything complex.

Question 3 was too dense. It only permitted day-care providers to get out from under the thumb of state agencies by letting them try to organize a weak union-like organization. They could then negotiate consistent and fairer regulations and procedures. It made perfect sense, at least to the few who pored over the obscure question wording. It wasn't sexy enough or explained simply enough.

To state the obvious, Massachusetts is not and is not likely to become an electorate of change seekers. In some ways, we can inch ahead of our socially conservative nation, but in the main, we want our new and different features to not be too new or too different.

It is only when we are ground down in the muck by, say 16 years of regressive Republican stagnation, that we go for, say a progressive chief executive. Otherwise, it's no, that's too radical and no, that's confusing. It's the belt-and-suspenders New England of yore, very comfortable.

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Ron Newman said...

My take on the questions:

Q1: People don't mind the idea of selling wine in Stop & Shop, Trader Joe's, or Whole Foods. But the Massachusetts Food Association overreached, proposing to create far more new licenses than there are supermarkets, and defining a "food store" so loosely that most 7-Elevens and Gulf stations would qualify. Voters didn't want that.

Q2: The advocates failed to put a clear case forward why this would beneift voters.

Q3: Something that should be worked out in the legislative process, not submitted to voters.

(I voted yes on all three, with reservations.)

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with saying fusion voting would make ballots confusing? It WOULD make ballots confusing -- a candidate's name would appear in more than one spot for the same office. That's confusing. If you make the natural assumption that you should check all the spots your candidate's name appears you get your ballot disqualified for your trouble.

I think the law as proposed in Massachusetts tries to solve that problem by declaring that two votes for the same candidate in the same race will be counted as one but not apportioned to any party. Thus, your election results will say: Deval Patrick (Dem) XXX, Deval Patrick (Green) XXX, Deval Patrick (SomeOtherParty) XXX, Deval Patrick (generic) XXX.

Dear God. Spare us.

massmarrier said...

Well, Jeff, that's not convincing to me. Confusing is four pages of mind-numbing ballot questions, as we just had.

Having a list of, say, all the gubernatorial candidates, and a dupe or even a triplet would require a minimum of explanation, either before the election or on the ballot.

It's not a problem in New York State and elsewhere. I think our voters are at least as capable.