Suppression of Direct Democracy

Suppression of Direct Democracy

Suppression of Direct Democracy

            Robert A. Levine        

Politicians don’t like being told what to do. This is particularly true if the direction comes from their constituents. They believe that once they are elected to office, they control the agenda of their constituents and are free to make the laws, even if they conflict with the wishes of the people. This is particularly true of the elected officials of gerrymandered state legislatures who do not want the overturning of laws they have written by the people of their states. It is as if they know better than the voters what is good for them and the state and are unwilling to allow the voters to challenge the laws they have passed.

This mindset exists particularly in gerrymandered state legislatures controlled by Republicans who have tried to make it more difficult for referenda or initiatives passed by the people to reverse laws that the legislators have passed. In fact, they have been surprised at times to see that the majority of voters have been opposed to pieces of legislation that they have made law. Abortion is one issue that many legislators are in conflict over with their constituents. GOP state legislatures also want to neutralize voters who favor raising minimum wages in their states and who want to eliminate gerrymandering.

Originally, referenda or voter initiatives could be passed by a majority of the people voting. Now, however, a number of state legislatures have been trying or have increased the percentage of people in favor of an issue necessary for it to pass from 50 percent to 60 or even 67 percent. They are afraid that just having a majority in favor of an issue will allow reversal of laws they have passed. Undoubtedly, the legislature’s raising of the percentage for passing an initiative will be challenged in the courts, but the outcome of this is uncertain.

Gerrymandered state legislatures have also been making it harder for people to vote, hoping that those who support them will be more avid in going to the polls.  Voter IDs may be disallowed for minor discrepancies, polling places and hours may be limited, drop off boxes limited and placed in inconvenient locations and so forth. Also, referenda may be held separately from elections so that there will be lower voter turnout.

Even in red states such as Kansas, general support for abortion rights surprised Republicans and they do not wish to see restrictive abortion laws changed in their states. Even though the legislators are catering to a minority of voters, these are usually very avid in their ideology, often driven by religious beliefs. The legislators do not wish to chance losing the support of this base, even if the majority favors a different path.

Direct voting on an issue is the essence of democracy and a majority of voters should be able to determine how to handle issues. This is not to say that the majority may sometimes be wrong, as was shown in Proposition 13 in California when it came to a consideration such as freezing property tax rates.  Though the majority is not always right, neither are the legislators and when there is a conflict, the people should rule. However, some of our Founding Fathers may not have agreed with this assessment.

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