Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sour Grapes for Tuesday, November 6th

Up the people
We elect or ‘hire’ by our votes legislators to do the business of making, amending and canceling laws in our Commonwealth. Our Constitution sets limits on what laws they can make and guides them to legislate within a defined framework. If the legislators want to step outside that framework they can do so by putting a ‘legislative initiative’ to the voters and if approved by a simple 50% +1 majority the change or exception becomes law.

That Constitution also allows for citizen input into the lawmaking process by a ‘citizens initiative’ which must also be approved or turned down by the Commonwealth’s voters. The difference is that a popular initiative brought by an individual or a group must be approved by a 2/3s ‘supermajority’ (66.66%+1). As if that huge approval disparity is not bad enough. As if that restriction on changes being brought to the public attention by we citizens is not reduced enough. Insult is added to injury by requiring the resulting 2/3s voter approval to be counted not by 2/3s of the actual votes cast, but by 2/3s of all registered voters.

This particular piece of insanity means that a public initiative brought to the litmus test of approval by the citizenry, no matter how popular, must first pass the gauntlet of having everyone who does not vote being counted as if they had voted no. I ask you to think about that for a moment before we move on to a couple of examples. It means that the voter who died last year but whose name has not yet been purged from the voter list voted no. It means that a person who lives in the US mainland and is still registered here but has no interest in voting here anymore voted no. It means that a person who requested an absentee ballot but didn’t get it to the PO on time voted no. It means that the person who goes to the wrong polling place or one who gives up after standing in a long line or who is too ill to go out that day all voted no, no matter what their true intention was.

In Saturday’s election there were 15,184 registered to vote but only 10,605 went to the polling places and cast their ballots. That means that on any citizen initiative that affected the entire commonwealth, nearly a third voted no just by not showing up at the polls whether they wanted to vote that way or not. In my opinion this gives what lawyers and politicians like to call a ‘chilling effect’ to the idea that individual private citizens or groups of like-minded private citizens have a chance to affect the political and cultural climate of the Commonwealth.

I say lets let the actual voters decide whether or not an idea brought forth by a private citizen has merit or not, and let’s let that approval be on a par with the same approval necessary to pass a legislative initiative; 50%+1 vote. Further let’s let that 50%+1 vote be counted as a percentage of the total number of votes actually cast. I would go further and say that to have it continue as it is fosters the belief that the system is ‘fixed’ to allow almost no input from the citizens. In its current form the initiative process is mostly for show and allows precious little chance for citizen input.

Now for a couple of examples. For an idea not supported by a majority of the citizenry, like the Saipan Casino Act that failed over the weekend, this more fair way of counting initiative votes would not make any difference. That controversial initiative would have failed because a majority of voting citizens did not support it in it’s current form and signaled that displeasure by voting against it.

But lets say a proposal to do something that just about everyone would support came along as a citizen’s initiave. Something like everyone should smile and wave cheerfully at persons that appear to be tourists. (I’m trying to be a bit silly here while trying to think of something just about everyone would support). There might be a few extremist eggheads (like me) who would complain that it violated their right to be in a perpetual bad mood. Or violated their right to not like tourists and they didn’t want to be forced to show support for them (like the now departed Sadaam Hussein). But for the most part, even though arcane and a bit idiotic, most of the voting population would be willing to go along with it because it would foster repeat tourist customers and would teach our children good manners.

Problem is to go along with it they would have to overcome a built-in roadblock to the measure’s success. In our example the 10, 605 voters are immediately faced with the obstacle of 4,579 no shows to the polling place who are counted as saying no (dead or not). 69.8% percent of the real actual voters are now left trying to achieve a yes to the Smile and Wave Act vote of 66.67%. So to get a supermajority of 10,123 voters under the current unfair way of counting, a tiny contingent of 482 voters can skew the vote and thwart the wishes of literally 95% of the voters. (That 482 no’s represents only 4.5% of the actual voters and represents only 3.2% of all registered voters).

As you can see it is darn near impossible for any citizen proposed initiative to succeed, because no matter how much the vast majority of voters want the idea to become law, a tiny minority of voters can object and skew the result to no. Is this democracy in action? Is this a government that is run for the people, by the people and of the people? I submit that it is not. I further submit that we as citizens should start a process to change this so that we can have a chance to let the voters truly decide an issue that the Legislature may not have the will or the votes to put forth. Lets enact real citizen participation by changing the currently flawed and unfairly skewed system.

Of course even to change this process, we may have to resort to the very same unfair way of counting votes in a public initiative because the legislature may not want to give citizens a larger voice in running the community by enacting a legislative initiative change. Well, as Harry Blalock likes to say: it’s food for thought. (Please note that Harry neither necessarily approves nor disapproves of this or any other of my sometimes wacky ideas).

Quote of the week: A friend, reflecting on his role on election day said: “The politicians get to discuss and decide all year long. Today it’s my turn to talk.” Bud White (Tanapag, Saipan).


glend558 said...

I see you got the picture of the unfair voting system... I posted this Oct 22.
Maybe it can be changed...

Bruce A. Bateman said...

Yeah, glen...you are right on.... and it is something that needs attention.

It was your discussion of the issue the other evening at Porky's that got me thinking about it and I began to do a bit of research. The more I think about it, the more I think it needs reform. Thanks for the url reference. I'll go look at your post.