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Friday, September 12, 2008

It’s Wrong to Count People Who Don’t Vote

In the 24 states that allow voters to create laws and place them directly on the ballot, legislators have tried some dirty tricks to foil citizen lawmaking. In 2006, Florida amended its state constitution to require 60 percent of the vote—rather than a simple majority—to pass any ballot initiative. Utah implemented a similar “supermajority” requirement a decade ago, but only for measures dealing with wildlife protection.

Voting_booths Now, Arizona politicians have gotten into the act and want to make a mockery of the very essence of democracy. The state legislature has placed Proposition 105 on the November ballot, deceptively called the “Majority Rules” initiative. If it passes, any future ballot initiative would need more than just a majority of votes cast, but a majority of all registered voters—regardless of whether people show up to the polls or not.

It’s another cynical and underhanded power grab by state legislators, special interest groups, and industry lobbyists who want to prevent Arizona voters from exercising their right to direct democracy and the lawmaking process. They want to further dismantle the ballot initiative process, as a way of consolidating their own power and shielding corporations from the perceived whims of the electorate (the same electorate that puts these lawmakers in office).

In 2006, Arizona voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 204 to provide more humane treatment of farm animals, by a landslide vote of 62 percent to 38 percent. The initiative won majorities in 12 of 15 counties across the state. Industrial factory farms in the state will phase out the cruel confinement of calves and pigs in small cages where they don’t even have enough room to turn around and stretch their limbs. The measure prevents animal cruelty and protects Arizona’s environment from factory farm waste.

But the initiative could not have passed if the changes mandated by Prop 105 had been in place. Although it had the overwhelming support of the majority of people who voted, it would not have met the nearly impossible threshold of a majority of all registered voters in the state. Indeed, virtually no ballot initiative could meet that standard, and Prop 105 is a de facto ban on the ballot initiative process.

For a typical (non-presidential) general election with 60 percent voter turnout, a measure would have to receive more than an 83 percent "Yes" vote to be enacted. Since 1974, only one initiative has met that threshold and that was during a high turnout (77 percent) presidential election.

People who have died or moved and are still on the voter rolls, or people who simply choose not to vote or don’t make it to the polls, should not be considered automatic “No” votes. No candidate is held to that standard, and no ballot initiative should be either. It’s undemocratic and unworkable.

A broad and diverse coalition called The Voters of Arizona has formed to fight Prop 105, and it includes the Arizona School Boards Association, the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, the Arizona Education Association, The Humane Society of the United States, and many other groups concerned about fair elections and direct democracy. Don’t let the corporate lobbyists and special interests continue to erode the ballot initiative process. If you live in Arizona, be sure to protect your voting rights by voting “No” on Prop 105.


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