Colorado produced the country’s second-highest voter turnout in November, serving a blow to advocates of direct democracy. The turnout creates a likely reprieve from special interests using our state as America’s playground for bad ideas.
Coloradans wisely rejected a list of ill-conceived, poorly written ballot measures that would have raised taxes, ushered in statewide recession, stifled development, raised unemployment, shortchanged governments and mired them in litigation. Advocates sold most measures as do-good laws to protect air and water, provide for children, protect property rights, and improve transportation.
Voters did not buy it, with most voting “no” on all of the above. Had this gone the other way, our state would be in trouble.
By merely voting – for or against whomever and whatever – Coloradans probably reduced future attempts at ballot-box legislation.
Colorado’s problem with election lawmaking results from the ease with which special interest money buys petition signatures. Out-of-state activists come here with extreme ideas. They hire political firms to circulate petitions, paying them for each signature attained.
Whether threatening property rights to shut down oil and gas, or attempting to impose socialized medicine, activists begin by paying petitioners to stand in Colorado parking lots begging for autographs.
This year’s record-high voter turnout raised the bar for ballot measures, as explained by ColoradoPolitics.com reporter Marianne Goodland.
State law sets the number of signatures required for a measure at 5 percent of total votes cast for all candidates for secretary of state in the last election.
Since the 2014 election, ballot measures required 98,492 signatures. For the next four years that number is a whopping 124,527 – a 26.4 percent increase in the signature threshold.
That big number and its associated costs, combined with the failure of most 2018 ballot measures, should lower Colorado’s appeal as a cheap test lab for ballot-box activism.
This is good news. Laws imposed by elections do not typically compare to the quality of those crafted by our representative process. A legislature composed of elected leaders scrutinizes, debates, and torture-tests a bill for weeks, months, or more in full view of the public. Proposals go through committees. Expert advocates and opponents testify, along with those who will benefit or suffer if a bill becomes law.
Media have time to analyze bills, seeking input from objective experts, advocates and opponents.
Politicians write, rewrite, amend and compromise on details. If two legislative bodies approve a proposal, proponents have to pitch it to the executive branch. The governor runs it through his closest political and legal advisers, then signs it into law or negates it with a veto.
Ballot proposals, by contrast, typically receive almost no due diligence. Most merely uphold the visions of whichever special interest groups craft them. Some measures are careless. Others are intentionally deceptive. Either way, most contain litanies of unintended consequences. Approving these proposals can make little more sense than buying a used car without a test drive or inspection.
America’s founders created an assortment of checks and balances to protect us from governance by direct democracy. They did not make it easy for voters to impose ill-conceived laws to benefit the few. As a result, the country does not vote to fight wars. The public does not vote on federal budgets. Americans don’t traditionally vote to deprive a person or group of property rights.
America’s founders understood the prudence of subjecting most potential laws to a slow, methodical legislative process that includes weighing all competing interests. Colorado is sovereign, but would be wise to respect our country’s founding philosophy. Each registered voter can do so by never signing petitions without fully understanding the ramifications of any potential new law it could help impose.
Voters have enacted a few good Colorado laws, including one that requires voter approval for new taxes. More typically, we have littered our statutes and the state constitution with poorly worded laws, some of which contradict one another.
Special-interest activists should choose another state for future experiments with careless ideas. Coloradans voted in droves this year. In doing so, they pushed the bar for the ballot high in the sky.