Have you ever wondered how public policy is created? We may all think it’s just the elected legislators, but citizen demands on the ballots are a steady source of our policy. According to Ballotpedia, citizens in 37 states voted on 155 ballot measures this Midterm 2018. That’s lower than average and in contrast to the massive protests of the past couple of years. Ballot measures have become a high stakes political referendum with increased funding that are not always great ideas for the entire society. A quick review of these initiatives leaves us thinking, are they truly the people’s policy?
The 1% That Make The Ballot
We all have ideas we would like to become policy. Everything from controlling the price of milk to renewable energy yet few of these ideas reach the ballot due to increased political funding of ballot measures. According to Ballotpedia studies, the Midterm referendums costs over $1 billion dollars, too high for most mom and pop ideas to win. The ballot campaigns are a clear definition of the people versus corporations in many ways.
In Massachusetts, a nurse: patient ratio measure lost. The Massachusetts people must believe that more patients per nurse is acceptable until it’s their turn in the hospital. Or maybe it’s the millions spent by corporate hospitals detailing the increase in costs for hospitalization and healthcare? The opposition, Coalition to Protect Patient Safety, spent over $25 million compared to the union backed Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care’s $10 million. The 1% have been scaring the American people for generations, this loss is no different.
In California, residents were asked to increase rent control across cities in statewide Proposition 10. It los,t but why? Wouldn’t we all like lower rent? The opposition raised $80 million, three times as much as the proponents. The opponents focused on scare tactics such as sending flyers to single family home owners on the assumed future; lack of realty value, type of people that could possibly begin living next door and mass marketing tools across major cities. The proposition lost in a state where 1 out of every 3 families spend half of their incomes on rent. Individualism in negative advertising might be the culprit in this loss. But why did it lose? Was it just the multi-million dollar advertising from opposition? No, it’s more likely that the low voter turnout had an effect as well. Only 41% of Californians voted in the midterms compared to over 70% for presidential races. The people’s policy initiatives need to counter multi-million dollar campaigns with higher voter turnout.
Low Voter Turnout Is A Whisper Campaign
The Midterms are historically low voter turnout, usually around 40-45% of voters. That’s not much different than our presidential races that are averaging around 55%. The lower voter turnout has a much different effect on ballot measures which historically have lower votes. Take Chicago’s latest ballot measure to change gun dealer criminal penalties. According to the Chicago Board of Elections, 1,053,353 ballots were cast in Chicago with 792,572 votes on the ballot measure. Just to be safe, we checked on the marijuana revenue measure and it was basically the same with 794,693 votes. We played it safe and checked a state ballot measure for comparison. North Dakota asked voters to amend their constitution asking if only US citizens should be allowed to vote. The entire Dakota vote was 329,086 while only 314,813 voted for the measure. The people consistently say they would like their voice heard but squander the opportunity.
Can the people save the people?
We all know America is the midst of a war against the opioid crisis. Even as we read this article someone is over dosing. A tragedy that only seems to get worse. Where was the people’s policy on controlling pharmaceutical companies’ endangerment of our lives? Michigan voters legalized marijuana while their overdose rate increased exponentially. Kentucky, possibly the opioid orphan capital of the United States, passed Marsy’s law but nothing on opioid grooming companies? Even Ohio tried to create rehabilitative services on their ballot as a key to win the opioid battle. Of course, lowering drug penalties to misdemeanors and forcing rehab for drug addicts didn’t win. The peoples policy would have worked better than jail as history has shown.
Formidable Foe or Friend?
Ballot measures can directly represent the people. Politically induced funding, low voter turnout, low votes on measures and inactive measures make the process politically impotent. We must continue to encourage people to share their ideas, hopefully making it to the ballot. But as far as we can see our neighbor may not care enough to be our keeper.