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Commentary: Ballot insanity

There are two very different proposals this year that would dramatically change life in Michigan.  Both have evidentially gotten way more than enough signatures to qualify to be on the November ballot. But opponents of both are fighting hard to prevent people from having a chance to vote on them.  And what this ought to say to all of us is that our state constitution is fundamentally flawed. 

Constitutions of any kind need to be somewhat flexible if they are to survive, and that means there has to be a way to modify or change them.  The authors of the US constitution never imagined their descendants would have to worry about laws or rights as they applied to aviation much less cyber space.  But our basic frame work is such that this hasn’t been a problem.  Now every so often, the constitution has had to be amended but the framers wisely made that, not impossible, but very hard to do.

Since the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, our constitution has been amended only 17 times and two of those cancelled each other out.  But those writing the Michigan state constitution a half a century ago weren’t as wise.  They made our constitution too easy to amend and they made it too easy for people to pass laws on their own, by collecting signatures and slapping something on the ballot. 

Actually, that’s wrong.  It isn’t that easy for an average person or group of people to collect hundreds of thousands of valid signatures.  But it is easy for a very rich person or corporation to shell out money to pay for signatures.  Nor is that illegal. 

So this year, we had the labor movement flexing its muscles to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would protect collective bargaining.  Billionaire Matty Moroun may have spent millions to get another proposal on the ballot that would require a state wide vote on any new international border crossing—namely the one that would compete with his monopoly over the Detroit River.

All this does is make a mockery of the idea of representative government.  Nor do the rules seem to mean much anymore.

Currently, while it’s clear that the opponents of the Emergency Manager Law got enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, those who want to keep the repeal off the books are savagely fighting in the courts.  Much the same is happening with the purposed collective bargaining amendment. 

Now, personally, I’d be inclined to vote “no” on repealing the Emergency Manager Statute, I think it’s needed.  I also think that if it gets on the ballot, it may cause chaos in places that now have emergency managers. 

When all of this is over, it seems there will be more things on the November ballot than anyone will have time to read. 

What all of this means is that we really need one more constitutional amendment on the ballot—one that would make the constitution far harder to amend and make it, not impossible but far harder, to pass laws by voter initiative. 

Either that or we can look forward to a virtually irrelevant legislature, an Etch-a-Sketch constitution and bed sheet ballot insanity every year.  Is that what we really want?

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