Saturday, September 22, 2007

Constitutional Crisis?

I know the "Constitutional crisis" alarm has almost been overplayed, but the developing ballot measure issue in California does have potential for spurring a real issue here. The "Presidential Election Reform Act", as it is called is expected to make it on the ballot in California, proposes to change California's electoral vote distribution from its current form (all electoral votes go to the Presidential candidate who wins the popular vote state-wide) to a distribution based on who wins in particular districts. Bob Herbert has a great article in today's New York Times about the entire situation and motives of the measure's backers, not to mention repercussions. Because it is still in the signature-gathering phase, it has not been given a measure number.

As someone who lives in a state with the ballot measure system, I've seen first-hand the tremendous abuse that occurs around ballot measures. Intended to give citizens a real voice in the laws of their state, the system has fallen prey to outside and narrow-minded interests. Many of these measures are written purposely in language that confuses and misleads voters. It is not uncommon for voters to read short summaries, or even the title of a measure and base their decision on that, without any real awareness of what the measure actually does. Many initiative sponsors bank on voters not having the time or the inclination to know what it is that they are really voting for. The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a progressive “think-and-do tank” for ballot measure research and strategic campaign support, is an excellent resource for keeping up on measures around the country, who is sponsoring them, background information and specifics about the measures. BISC does not claim to be non-partisan, but I've never seen any indication of support for any particular party.

I am a supporter of the spirit of the ballot measure system, but major work needs to be done to establish stronger safeguards against abuse, and to educate voters on how to read and understand the measures when presented with them.

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