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Letters to the Editor:

Published: November 21, 2008
Section: Opinions


To the Editor:

Matt Kipnis, like most media hooting at the masses, picks on a few bad ballot initiatives [in the Nov. 14 article “Considering ballot intiatives.”

Ballot initiatives are the origin of most reforms, such as women’s suffrage (passed in 13 states before Congress went along), direct election of Senators (4 states), publicly financed elections (passed by initiative in 6 of 7 states with them), medical marijuana ( in 9 of 13 states) and increasing minimum wages (in all 6 states that tried in 2006).

See http://Vote.org/initiatives for more examples and references. Or the National Conference of State Legislatures complete database of ballot measures: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/legismgt/elect/dbintro.htm

Politicians have done FAR more to tyrannize minorities than ballot initiatives: Legislators criminalized sodomy & oral sex, not to mention miscegenation. Politicians put Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during WWII. Congress persecuted Communists and friends during the McCarthy era. They still fill the jails with pot smokers, even those in the 13 states with legal medical marijuana -9 got MM by ballot initiative.

Look in your own backyard: Massachusetts just made marijuana possession a misdemeanor, and rejected killing the income tax.

Solutions to initiative problems have been generally agreed on and available for many decades. But legislators NEVER improve the process, only make it harder (not affecting the wealthy much) and hobbling it in various ways (this year trying AZ Prop. 105 and CO Ref. O, both wisely defeated by voters).

Voters on ballot initiatives need what legislators get: public hearings, expert testimony, amendments, reports, etc. The best project for such deliberative process is the National Initiative for Democracy, led by former Sen. Mike Gravel: http://Vote.org. Also http://healthydemocracyoregon.org/ and http://cirwa.org

In Switzerland, petitions are left at government offices and stores for people to read and sign at leisure, so there are less aggressive petitioners, more informed signers, and less $ required. The Swiss vote on initiatives 3-7 times a year so there’s never too many on one ballot. Because they have real power, the Swiss read more newspapers/capita than anyone else.

In Switzerland, representatives are humbler and more representative after centuries of local and cantonal (state) ballot initiatives, and national initiatives since 1891. They call their system “co-determination.” This works for all relationships!

– Evan Ravitz

Founder, Vote.org