Thursday, August 01, 2002

There's been a lot of controversy here in Massachusetts lately over the issue of statewide ballot initiatives and referenda. The particular case which has been the center of the conflict involves "Clean Elections," an initiative which was approved by voters last November. The state legislature, particularly egomanaic House Speaker Tom Finneran, refused to approve funding for the measure, resulting in a court decision essentially forcing the legislature to comply.

Now, I think that Finneran's behavior is pretty reprehensible. That said, I think that ballot initiatives and referenda are ridiculous. The United States and Massachusetts governments are set up as a democratic republic, meaning that everyone of voting age has the right to vote (democratic) for individuals to run the government (republic). Without analyzing all the pros and cons of a democratic republic, the basic idea is that the elected representatives are in a position to study issues, hear from experts, and make an informed decision that the general populace could not be expected to make. Or, to put it more simply, our legislators know more about the state budget than the average voter.

As soon as referenda enter the picture, there's an attempt to create a pure democracy (sans republic). Voters are asked to make a decision, often with very little information about what they are voting on. Really, what uninformed voter is going to vote against something called "clean elections"? But, like any new program, clean elections require money. Money that comes from the same budget as all the other programs created by the legislature. Legislators understand this and can balance their priorities (which, at least in theory, reflect the priorities of the voters). Ordinary voters cannot. This is one reason why the founders of this country chose a republican form of government. Personally, I think they made the right choice.

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