Jim Crawford: Ballot measures, a direct democracy are worth saving

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 9, 2023

There is one form of citizen self-governing in the United States that is the closest to direct democracy, the ballot measure. You should not be surprised then to learn that all too often, our elected representatives are not too keen on this method when it disagrees with their priorities. 

Take the case of Florida. In 2018, Florida voters approved a ballot measure permitting ex-felons to vote once their debt to society had been served. 

But the Republican-dominated legislature feared too many of the ex-felons would vote for Democrats, an unacceptable outcome for these self-invested politicians. 

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So the crafty Republicans created a new provision to overrule the people, making it a pre-condition of voting by the ex-felons that they must show proof of having paid any and all bills and costs associated with their imprisonment before being permitted to vote. 

This effectively nullified the people’s ballot initiative and protected the threatened Republican majority in the legislature. And to cap off the distaste for the will of the people, in 2022, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis created an election police force that arrested ex-felons who attempted to vote, but were unaware of the new restrictions imposed by the Republican legislature. 

Twenty individuals were arrested and face charges. Several of those detained had received voter registration cards from the State of Florida. 

Then there was Kansas, where Republican legislators thought they would place a ballot initiative with language designed to confuse voters to vote against granting abortion rights they sought to support. A public education campaign was successful and Kansas enshrined abortion rights in spite of the legislators’ intent. 

In 2022, abortion was on the ballot as a ballot measure in six states. In each case, voters acted either to protect abortion rights or to deny abortion restrictions advanced by Republican legislators. 2023 and 2024 can be anticipated to continue the movement to protect abortion, to the dismay of Republican elected officials who ignore that nearly two thirds of Americans (Pew Research) want abortion rights protected. 

Republicans are not standing helplessly by while voters attempt to make decisions about crucial social matters directly by the people. They will not let this carnage of voter interference in matters better left to the political class.  

Back to Florida, where DeSantis and his Republican legislature have once again closed the cookie jar of voter participation in a working democracy. 

This time, the tactic was to cap political contributions to get a ballot measure before the voters at the microscopic level of $3,000 per individual. This would effectively prohibit the development of signature acquisitions at a much higher cost for any statewide initiative. 

The ACLU has sued, claiming this will effectively end the ballot measure process in Florida by citizens. A federal judge has issued a permanent injunction against SB 1380, citing First Amendment violations. The case continues with Florida seemingly not too concerned about first amendment issues. 

Voters must be vigilant and informed when legislators attempt to undermine the use of the most direct means of citizen engagement, the ballot measure. Unfortunately, all too often, it seems those we elect want their will, not the will of the people, to determine public policy. And that can only lead to corrupt governance.  

Ultimately, we are all responsible for the government we get, and we must stand prepared to fight for good government when challenged. 

Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.