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The Absurdity of ‘Let Me Vote’

An anti-equality group in Indiana is trying to put an anti-same sex marriage initiative on the ballot and they’re using the familiar but always hypocritical tactic of telling people that they have the right to a direct vote on the subject, all with ominous music playing over the ad.

I was recently asked to help promote a ballot initiative here in Michigan using the same message, that the people have a right to vote on the issue. And while I do disagree with the policy that was adopted by the legislature and is now being challenged, I said no. Because there is no consistent way to make that argument. When a legislature passes a law we don’t like, we demand the right to a direct vote on it; when they pass a law we do like and the other side demands a direct vote on it, we think that’s absurd. And it is. We are a representative democracy, not a direct one. And we have no credibility when we demand the “right” to vote only on those laws we want to stop.

Comments

  1. doublereed says

    Actually, I’d say there is a pretty good case for not voting on such issues. Equality is supposed to be protected by the unelected courts as a constitutional issue, no?

  2. Trebuchet says

    This state – Washington – is a good example of direct voting run amok. I’ve long since learned that you won’t go far wrong by simply voting “no” on every single initiative.

  3. Thumper: Token Breeder says

    When a legislature passes a law we don’t like, we demand the right to a direct vote on it; when they pass a law we do like and the other side demands a direct vote on it, we think that’s absurd. And it is. We are a representative democracy, not a direct one. And we have no credibility when we demand the “right” to vote only on those laws we want to stop.

    Without meaning to be too fawning; statements like this, Ed, are why I admire you. It is refreshingly consistent.

    @doublereed, Ed is saying US citizens shouldn’t be allowed to vote on it.

  4. snoeman says

    Trebuchet:

    “This state – Washington – is a good example of direct voting run amok. I’ve long since learned that you won’t go far wrong by simply voting “no” on every single initiative.”

    Agreed. There are exceptions of course. I seem to recall a few years ago there was someone trying to get an initiative on the ballot that would have declared Tim Eyman a horse’s ass. There’s a solid case to be made for that one.

    I’m enough of a cynic to believe that Eyman might have even promoted it if he got paid to do so.

  5. Jeff D says

    Ed,

    Here is the part of the story that you are missing: The placing of this initiative on the November 2014 election ballot, here in the Hoosier State, is actually the last step in the process of adding a same-sex-marriage ban to the State Constitution, to duplicate a provision that is already in the Indiana Code (state statutes). The procedure (under Art. 16, Section 1) that a proposed amendment to the Constitution must be passed by simple majorities of both houses in two consecutive General Assembly sessions. If is passed a second time by the Indiana House and Senate, it is then placed on the election ballot, and direct voter approval is the last step.

    Starting in the autumn of 2013, there has been a groundswell of influental opinion from major businesses (Eli Lilly, etc.) and state universities (Purdue, I.U.., Ball State), urging the General Assembly to defeat or to not pass the proposed amendment for the requisite second time, because it makes Indiana look like the home of more than the usual quantity of ignorant bigots or the dupes of ignorant bigots, and because it will hurt Indiana’s economy. The response to this groundswell, from the ranks of ignorant bigots and their dupes and Tea Party pupptetmasters, has been this P-R campaign to please please let Hoosiers vote directly. That will only happen if both houses pass the amendment for the requisite second time during the current short session of the General Assembly.

    Indiana does not over-use ballot initiatives. This is a rare instance where a direct vote on the general election ballot is a procedural requirement.

    There are solid Republican majorities in both houses of the Indiana General Assembly. However, it’s still possible that the somewhat rational, business-minded GOP legislators will decide that it woudl be better to kill this constitutional amendment, because it would merely make it a little harder to repeal the current same-sex marriage ban. That ban will ultimately be repealed even here in Indiana, because of demographic forces. Just a question of when.

  6. pixiedust says

    We’ve had a trend in Maryland over the last couple of election cycles in which a law is passed by the Democratic (and democratic) lege, signed by the governor, and then petitioned to a referendum by the Republican minority. We don’t have initiatives like California. We can only challenge an enacted law. It takes only 3% of the number of voters in the previous election (or something like that) so the tea party folks don’t have too much trouble getting stuff on the ballot. I have learned to vote in support of the law that was enacted even on stuff that we should not be voting on at all such as civil rights.

    I like to quote David Sedaris: “Voting on whether to allow gays to marry is like voting on whether Mexicans should be allowed to celebrate Christmas.”

  7. Michael Heath says

    Jeff D writes:

    There are solid Republican majorities in both houses of the Indiana General Assembly. However, it’s still possible that the somewhat rational, business-minded GOP legislators will decide that it woudl be better to kill this constitutional amendment, because it would merely make it a little harder to repeal the current same-sex marriage ban.

    Given the recent progress made at the federal level to better protect gays’ rights, I wonder if some Republicans will increasingly seek to have it both ways. That’d be Republicans who are fine with equal rights with gays but don’t lack a sufficient amount of integrity to champion that position. They could vote at the state level against protecting gay people’s rights while predicting the federal government will make it unconstitutional at the state level to prohibit gay marriage. They’d be on the record as a bigot to better their odds of not being primaried, while not hurting their state economically by its suffering from prohibitions against gay people exercising their rights (in the long-term).

  8. lofgren says

    When a legislature passes a law we don’t like, we demand the right to a direct vote on it; when they pass a law we do like and the other side demands a direct vote on it, we think that’s absurd. And it is. We are a representative democracy, not a direct one. And we have no credibility when we demand the “right” to vote only on those laws we want to stop.

    Bull. This is the problem of people who are making such asinine arguments.

    The proper response is, “Yes, you have the right to vote on marriage equality. And you have the right to vote on slavery, and women’s suffrage, and pretty much anything else you want to vote on. And then the courts have the responsibility to overrule your stupid vote by applying the Constitution.”

    There is absolutely no inconsistency between demanding a right to vote on a matter that might make a difference and having disdain for people who demand the right to vote on matters that our Constitutional democracy deliberately takes out of the majority’s power in order to protect the rights of minorities.

  9. Ichthyic says

    I’ve long since learned that you won’t go far wrong by simply voting “no” on every single initiative.

    OTOH… school bond initiatives.

    there is value in the referendum process, it just needs better rules so it is not so easy to abuse.

  10. Ichthyic says

    The proper response is, “Yes, you have the right to vote on marriage equality. And you have the right to vote on slavery, and women’s suffrage, and pretty much anything else you want to vote on. And then the courts have the responsibility to overrule your stupid vote by applying the Constitution.”

    the problem with that stance is the unrealistic nature of addressing the results of all those votes.

    relying on the court systems to apply constitutional muster to any given piece of voted in legislation, like all the inane restrictions on abortions that have been voted in in so many states over the past couple of years alone (OVER 700!), means that while you might wait a decade for results, in the meantime, all people affected by that initial stupid vote are now suffering because of it.

    so, no, your thinking on this is idealistic at best.

  11. Ichthyic says

    They could vote at the state level against protecting gay people’s rights while predicting the federal government will make it unconstitutional at the state level to prohibit gay marriage.

    You’re not only correct IMO, but I rather think that pattern extends quite a bit further than just SSM, btw.

  12. dogmeat says

    While I agree that there are problems with initiatives and referendums, and they never should be used to determine whether or not a group of people should have their rights suppressed (default “no” being a better response), I contend that direct democracy does have a rather important role within our system and can often be critical in state and local politics.

    For example, here in AZ, members of the state legislature would rather be burned alive than spend an additional penny on education. Initiatives and referendums have played critical roles in creating (or restoring) funding for education that cannot get through the legislative process. Members of the legislature in many states narrowly win elections, often with very low voter turnouts, and then implement policies that can often be harmful to numerous critical policy areas. Direct democracy, when implemented effectively, can reverse some of those problems.

    Having said that, I acknowledge that there are some serious problems with the implementation in many of the states that include direct democracy, and that these powers can be twisted to do as much harm as good, but that argument can be made for any aspect of a democratic system. In a sense, these direct democratic powers provide an additional potential check/balance to the existing powers.

  13. lofgren says

    the problem with that stance is the unrealistic nature of addressing the results of all those votes.

    Um, no. I’m not saying that we should actually hold all of those votes, because the results would be irrelevant. I’m countering Ed’s frankly dumb assertion that there we can’t deride those who want to vote on gay marriage unless we are willing to give up our right to vote on completely unrelated matters. If you want to hold a vote on something that violates the Constitution and takes away the rights of your fellow citizens, you are an asshole and a moron. I can hold that position and also say that I have a right to vote on where the new overpass will go without contradiction.

  14. howardhershey says

    The real bad part of the proposed constitutional amendment is the second sentence. The first sentence doesn’t do anything that isn’t already law, but the second forbids any legal status or protections that are similar to marriage. That is, the amendment, as written, may well forbid private corporations or public universities from granting anything that resembles spousal benefits to their gay employees as many currently do. The committee added a ‘companion law’ that claims that this is not the intent of the law in an attempt to palliate the business community. But such a law would have little but symbolic impact given the quite bigoted language of the constitutional amendment. Probably be the best realistic result if the legislature voted against the current amendment and started a new one without that offending second sentence. That would delay it for another two years, by which time the appetite of enough Republicans to engage in gay-bashing might be diminished. That said, Indiana was the only Northern state that had miscegenation laws as late as1965 (only 2 years before the Loving decision invalidated all such laws), when it was repealed. It was lucky that miscegenation wasn’t offered to a public vote in 1965 as a proposed constitutional amendment. 40.5% of Alabama voters against amending their constitutional ban on interracial marriage in 2000.

  15. dingojack says

    Loftgren- you did read what Ed wrote and you quoted, right?
    The argument is: ‘if you want to stop people from voting directly on legislation X (that you don’t like), then you have to accept you can’t ask to vote directly on legislation Y (that you do like). Rules should be applied evenly without special pleading for the things you like or dislike. If not one then not all, or, if one then all’. If the latter then why have legislators at all? Let the citizens vote on everything. The Americans figured out early that not going the ‘majority rules’ route was a better idea. Sometimes the rights of minorities need to be protected despite the majority’s wishes.
    BTW all legislation (even where an overpass is going to go) is going to impact on citizens. Think about it. If the overpass is going to go in at location W that will affect the ‘quiet enjoyment’ of nearby properties, may restrict access to goods and services for the local area, will entail buying up land to actually construct the overpass, may negatively affect property prices (and taxes collected from such properties) and so on and so forth. The argument that marriage equality affects people’s rights but where an overpass is built doesn’t is spurious, both affect people’s rights, just in differing ways.
    Dingo

  16. lofgren says

    The argument is: ‘if you want to stop people from voting directly on legislation X (that you don’t like), then you have to accept you can’t ask to vote directly on legislation Y (that you do like).

    Yes, I read it, and I explained why it is asinine. It’s asinine because this:

    Rules should be applied evenly without special pleading for the things you like or dislike.

    Is fucking idiotic.

    I want to stop people from voting directly on legislation that violates our constitution, wastes judges’ time, and, as noted by Icthyic, causes real harm to real people while we wait for the wheels of government to sort out the mess. I want to vote directly on legislation where I feel that our representatives have gotten it wrong. There is absolutely nothing inconsistent about that. There’s a reason that most states have a mechanism for calling a popular vote.

    If the latter then why have legislators at all? Let the citizens vote on everything.

    Holy shit, this has to be one of the most profoundly dumb thing that has ever been written here.

    Just because you have a right to call for a popular vote doesn’t mean that a popular vote is an efficient or effective way of governing. That’s why we have mechanisms in place. Usually it requires a certain number of signatures indicating that there is sufficient interest in the legislation at hand. When nobody bothers to call for a popular vote or the signatures can’t be gathered, that’s a job for legislators. That’s what we pay them for.

    A comparison: you have the right to try to sue somebody for anything at any time. We have a whole system in place for determining whether or not your case has merit and should proceed. You have the right to make your case. Judges have the responsibility to hold up the law and kick you out on your ass when you fail. The only time we take away a person’s right to bring suit is when they have abused the system many, many times with suits that they should know are not going to succeed.

    The Americans figured out early that not going the ‘majority rules’ route was a better idea. Sometimes the rights of minorities need to be protected despite the majority’s wishes.

    Exactly. Which is why we have a Constitution. Which is why I can advocate for the right to vote on legislation Y while still saying that people who want to vote on legislation X (where X is gay marriage) are fucking morons and that they should be stopped. They explicitly want to vote on something that is not going to do anything but waste time and energy.

    You can try to hold a vote on anything you want. If your vote is just going to waste time because our laws clearly and pointedly took the power to do whatever you want to do out of the hands of the majority in order to protect other people’s rights, you are an asshole. That’s not special pleading.

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