On its surface the long-held practice of ballot initiatives has had its appeal. The knee-jerk reaction that, no doubt, started it all was the apparent desire to escape legislative grid-lock and take matters directly to the people. Simply put, it was the impatient urge to get something done. And who can argue with that?
But really! Haven’t things gotten a little out of control lately? This November, Nevada voters will be faced with no less than six ballot questions! On one hand, questions may be as trivial as exempting feminine hygiene products from sales tax (really, that is actually a thing: Question 2!). On the other hand, it might just be something as monumentally complex as the complete up-ending of the state’s energy sector (Question 3).
The trouble is that even the most inconsequential-seeming measure might have a myriad of unintended consequences lurking beneath its surface, just waiting to wreak havoc. And who really has time nowadays to delve in to all the moving parts and multiple facets of even the simplest ballot measure – much less the dizzyingly complex ones? With many of these items, information is not easily available and it can take many hours of research and analysis just to become familiar with the issue. That is a high price for being an informed voter; perhaps too high an expectation for the busy sound-bite style world where we live.
Of course, the other alternative is just giving up and NOT bothering to be an informed voter. Sadly this is the path taken by many in the face of the time consuming and confusing efforts involved in sorting out the details. Instead, many just throw a dart and hope that the majority of their fellow citizens have done the due diligence which they have not. This creates a perfect breeding ground for deep-pocketed interests to misinform and manipulate the voting public.
For that we might look no further than this year’s Question 3. This proposed Constitutional amendment passed the first time around in 2016 with more than 70 percent of the vote, a support buoyed up at that time wholly by misinformation. This year, the two major corporations behind Question 3 are again pulling all the stops hoping to continue that same result.
Their vague 15-second ad spots promise all things to all people. To conservatives is promised less government regulation and a free market. To liberals is promised more renewable energy and a cleaner environment. All are promised lower energy rates. But spend the hours it takes to really understand
Question 3 and adherents to either side of the political spectrum will find that none of it is entirely true.
This campaign is a perfect example of the ballot initiative system being used to bypass the more difficult path through the State Legislature where it truly belongs, and where Question 3 proponents know it wouldn’t have a chance! The ballot initiative system is being used here to dupe the unknowing public through misinformation. This campaign has stirred people up with half truths and flat-out falsehoods, then put torches and pitchforks in their hands and sends them out on a midnight hunt for a monster that doesn’t exist. In the end, the only ones to benefit from the ensuing chaos will be the handful of big businesses who have been pushing the measure all along.
The nation’s founding fathers feared just such a situation. They understood that the main flaw in a true democracy is an easily manipulated, uninformed populace being whipped up into an emotional frenzy. That is why the Constitution established a representative system officials are elected to stand for us in the halls of Congress or the Legislature. Those officials are there to listen to the various voices, study the issues and make informed decisions. Inasmuch as they do those things effectively, we may, or may not, send them back again.
It is the job of the legislative branch to make the laws. That is the best way. It is the safest way. When matters are left up to the ever-shifting whims of a self-absorbed, under-informed, and easily manipulated general public; that’s when things get frightening.
While they seem good on the surface, ballot initiatives are deeply flawed; possibly, in time, even fatally so. They lead the republic to a dangerous place. For that reason, the only ballot initiative that the Progress is likely to endorse wholeheartedly is the complete abandonment of the use of ballot initiatives as a legislative mechanism.