Monday, November 06, 2006

The United States uses a system of government called representative democracy. This means that we elect officials at various levels (city, state, federal) to represent us and make (hopefully) wise decisions on our behalf. One could argue about the quality of the results (lookit me being all tactful!), but that's the system we employ.

The mechanics of this system seem to work at the federal level. Again, I'm not arguing that our representatives do a particularly good job, but they're mostly showing up and voting and signing bills. There's plenty of time in the workday to take bribes, shoot a man in the face, have sexy IMs with pages, AND work on legislation.

At the city and state level (at least in California, anyway), lawmakers feel free to give up. Some issues come across their desk that apparently require the wisdom of the masses. So, every year....

Whoop! Apparently the end to that sentence should be "... I write the same blog post." I just searched my blog and found that I've already bitched about how California and San Francisco lawmakers like to ask voters to decide on issues that we can barely understand, let alone judge wisely.

So, let me jump to my main point here. For all of you who are also presented with election booklets filled with incomprehensible propositions about campaign finance reform loopholes, water levy engineering, and Fourier Transforms, allow me to present Mike's Simple Proposition and Initiative Voting Rules. So simple!

Rule #1 - Don't Make More Mediocre Laws

Most propositions consist of 75% good and 25% bad. This is not an acceptable level of goodness for a new law. Since the proposition process does not give voters a chance to amend these laws, we can only vote on what we're given. Unless you really REALLY love that 75%, don't vote yes for something that's 25% crap.

Rule #2 - Don't Tie Up Funds

It's rarely a good idea to mandate how funds should be spent. Ok, suppose I agree to raise the sales tax on gasoline so that we can repair more roads. That might make sense. What happens 2 years from now when gas prices go through the roof, and at the same time the levies break and need a billion dollars in repair. Oh, sorry. We mandated that the gas money ONLY go towards road repair. I guess we'll take the levy money from our underfunded schools instead.

I know the folks in the legislature can be idiots, but don't tie their hands by placing restrictions on how they budget our money. If we're going to give money to our goverment, let's put it in the big bucket so that our most pressing needs can be addressed each year, not just whatever need was biggest when we passed some narrow proposition.

So, unless you really REALLY love whatever they're funding, or just really REALLY hate whatever they're taxing, don't tie up funds.

Rule #3 - Don't Tie Judges' Hands

Often there are propositions that mandate certain jail time or penalties for certain crimes. I don't like child molesters, or rapists, or other violent criminals, but I'm hard pressed to argue that the citizenry of California can do justice by uniformly penalizing all people whose crimes get categorized the same way. We have people whose job it is to judge these criminals. They're called judges.

Judges won't always make the right decision but at least they get to meet the criminal and hear about the case. That's about 20,000% more data than we're given when we're asked to pass a law about appropriate punishments.

Rule #4 - No Meaningless Toothless Declarations

This is probably more of a problem in San Francisco than in other places. Here in SF, they love to float propositions that say things like, "This is a declaration of policy calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney"

Super. That's super.

Has anyone checked the impeachment handbook to see where San Francisco city goverment fits into the process? Maybe Appendix Rainbow details our part? On page Sunshine, perhaps?

Stomp your little feet, San Francisco! Pound those effeminate little fists! If you think and you believe, and you sprinkle the goddamn fairy dust, then maybe, just maybe....

You won't find many people who have a lower regard for Bush and Cheney than I do, but even I can't stomach a vote for a meaningless Declaration of Policy. I'll abstain on this one. Just a complete and total waste of time.

Rule #5 - Just Say No

If you are undecided on a proposition, vote no. Don't vote for a new law unless you're pretty certain that it's a good one. No bad laws, people.

(Update: I almost forgot one more rule.

Rule #6 - Don't Yell At Me

If you still can't decide how to vote, then look at the arguments for and against the proposition in the voter pamphlet. Whichever side USES THE MOST CAPITAL LETTERS loses. You can't substitute letter size for good arguments.)


Anonymous said...

I agree.

In general any voting system that gets more data from the electorate is a good thing. A well chosen ranked system provides more data that a single choice system, which in general should better reflect the will o' the people.

But initiatives suffer from 'garbage in, garbage out'. Good data does not enter the system when unqualified people are given half truths upon which to base decisions.

They do drive more people to go vote however, and that has to be good. Can't beat a nice wedge issue to motivate the middle.


Mike said...

Pablo, I'm not convinced that getting more voter involvement is a good thing. I want informed people making considered decisions. That doesn't describe everyone (and often doesn't describe me).

Janelle Renee said...

Bravo! Well said and written.

And you were being all tactful, too... doubly good!

kat said...

Rule #4 is my absolute favorite! Too funny... I had no idea my native Californians were being so ridiculous!

Mike said...

JR, *curtsy*

Kat, not all of the Californians are being ridiculous, but the ones here in SF (and Berkele) do get a bit full of themselves.

patsy said...

ok you got aronal again, you said you liked him.

patsy said...

well that word should be arnold the governor.

Mike said...

Patsy, I don't recall saying that I liked Arnold, merely that he wasn't as bad as I feared he would be.

Anonymous said...

We had a friend visiting from Tennessee this past weekend and he was blown away by the size of our voter pamphlet. He said they don't really have propositions in TN, maybe one a year on average. (I checked and this year they have two, one a ban on gay marriage and the other offering tax relief to old folks.) Obviously the political-industrial complex has not taken hold in Tennessee the way it has in California.

The SF situation is particularly bad -- I think if 4 supervisors get together they can put pretty much anything they want on the ballot. Hey, how about an anti-initiative initiative next year?


Mike said...

Larry! I'm moving to Tennessee!