Those Calling to Restrict Initiative Process Want to Silence Voters

Wed, Dec 2 2009 by Anonymous

After blogging yesterday about some of the petty ways initiative opponents try to block people from excercising their voting rights by throwing out their signatures on a petition, I started thinking about the wider struggle to protect those rights. Special interests and many politicians simply don’t like the initiative process because it threatens their hold on power. The last thing they want is for you, the voter, to have a say in how their government is run.

Because the initiative process is wildly popular with voters in states where petitioning rights are recognized, those who oppose the people having a say can’t move to outright eliminate the process. Instead the name of the game becomes putting so many restrictions on people doing petition drives that few if any petitions ever make the ballot. Democracy Blockers

These restrictions take two approaches: drive up the cost of doing a petition drive, and creating technicalities that can be used to throw out the bona fide signatures of voters.  Restrictions against petition circulators such as requiring they be residents of the state, requiring that they be registered with the state, requiring petitions be notarized and banning payment per signature all work to block citizens from being able to successfully put a measure up for a vote.

By preventing petition proponents from hiring professional signature collectors - that are almost always necessary to collect the large number of signatures states require in the short amount of time given - residency requirements cause proponents to spend more money to collect the same amount of signatures. Banning performance based payment - payment based on the signature - drives the cost up even further. Force collectors to go through an expensive registration and training program, and, you guessed it, petitioning government becomes even more expensive.

But what does all this really mean? The more expensive it is to do a petition drive, the less accessible the petition process becomes to normal citizens, and the more initiative and referendum become dominated by well-funded special interests. If petitioning costs a lot of money, then only those with a lot of money will be able to petition. It’s important to mention here that most of the 24 initiative states adopted the process to give average people a tool to go against the powerful influence of special interests, big business, and entrenched politicians.

Let’s say that a grassroots citizen group does come up with the money to mount a petition drive over the restrictions on how signatures are gathered. Even then, the petitioning citizens are still haunted by restrictions, as their political opponents now whittle away at the number of signatures that will be counted, claiming that if the people collecting signatures made a mistake - like living in another state, not being registered, being paid for their performance, or by not getting the petition notarized - the voter’s signature shouldn’t count. How mistakes made by the person who carries a petition from voter to voter have anything to do with whether those voters actually signed the petition and wanted their signature to be counted is beyond me: the only thing that should count is whether the voter was registered and wanted their signature to count, nothing else.

The result of this is that signatures that are otherwise valid and from voters who wanted their signature to count toward the petition making the ballot are thrown out. When someone’s signature is thrown out because the person who held the paper they signed failed to jump over a hurtle set up by the very government they are petitioning, their voice has been silenced and their right to petition has been taken away.

The bottom line with placing restrictions on the initiative and petitioning process, and the use of them to throw out signatures, is that they are aimed at reducing the ability of people to petition their government: they are aimed at silencing the citizens. Those who want to restrict the ability of people to petition don’t want the people - the ones that the Constitution talks about when it says “We the People…” - to be in charge of their government. The special interests, talking heads, and politicians who want to harm people’s ability to affect government want to do so for their own power, and every call for a restriction on the initiative process should be seen as an attempt to do just that.