Sign Here If You Think There Oughta Be a Law (Colorado Amendment 38)
Interestingly enough, the very first item on the list is one that, if passed, would make it quite a bit easier for us citizens to add issues to the ballot in the future. Amendment 38 has three fundamental flaws as well as numerous other problems.
- It's a constitutional amendment. These days, pretty much every citizen initiative is for an amendment to the state constitution. That's not because these are fundamental constitutional issues. Rather, it makes it harder for our elected officials to fix whatever problems the change introduces. However, this approach is a misuse of our state constitution, which should provide general guidance for the state government, while statutes should specify the specifics.
- It overrides the principle of local control -- every local government at every level would have to allow citizen petitions exactly as outlined in this amendment.
- It makes our representative democracy more irrelevant. It greatly limits the ability of our elected officials to do what we elected them to do.
For example, a group of folks here in Boulder decided that fluoridation of our water is dangerous, so they circulated a petition to eliminate it. However, instead of telling potential signers what their true goal is, they talked about how they wanted to eliminate toxic chemicals from our water supply. I know, I watched as they used this method to convince people.
In an episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit on Showtime, they did an experiment in which they circulated a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide. Lots of people signed it. The funny thing is that dihydrogen monoxide is just a fancy name for water. People signed the petition because the person with the pen made it sound so evil.
Onto the specifics of Amendment 38:
- It eliminates the right of any locality to define a process for resolving ballot title disputes. All disputes go to the State Supreme Court. (I guess with all the ballot issues we'll be seeing, the Supreme Court is going to be very busy in the week before the election.)
- Even in local elections, the number of signatures required is 5% (or less) of the people who voted for Colorado secretary of state in the last election. Do you know how many people actually vote for secretary of state (or could name ours)? Talk about setting the bar low! There is no provision for any locality to have a different standard.
- This one freaks me out: They will no longer be able to sample the signatures to see if they are valid. If someone thinks there is a problem, they have to protest the specific signature and prove it is invalid. And the standards are much looser: Even if somebody misspells their name, the signature can't be thrown out.
- You only have 10 days after the petition is filed to file a protest. That is not enough time to do any reasonable checking.
- The proponents have a full year to gather signatures for an election. Then, if there are still not enough, those signatures can be rolled forward to the next November, allowing any random kooks to keep beating their dead horse until it miraculously comes back to life. And how many of those year-or-two-old signatures will be of people who moved away, or who signed two or three times because they just didn't remember?
- It will be almost impossible for any state or local government to pass any law that can't be undone or changed by petition.
- Worse, the elected government is slowly put out of business. Any time there is a vote on any citizen-initiated measure, the topic is no longer allowed to be voted on by the elected officials. This is true whether the measure passes or fails. Over time, the number of topics elected lawmakers can't vote on will be longer than the list of topics they can vote on.
- Currently, nonpartisan state staff review each measure and write a description of each. Under this measure, there is no nonpartisan analysis. Proponents can write up to 1,000 words. Opponents, on the other hand, are limited to the number of words submitted by the proponents. For example, if the proponents of the anti-fluoridation measure on Boulder's local ballot were to simply say, "adding chemicals to our water supply is bad," opponents could respond with something like, "they're all liars and kooks; just vote no." No room for reasoned analysis.
- Government officials are prohibited under this measure from discussing anything related to a measure once the petition process is started. This means they can't even provide unbiased information about the impact of the proposal.