It’s official. Neither of the two petitions to put initiatives on Utah ballots this fall succeeded. (Read about it here.) The lieutenant governor’s office announced Tuesday that neither the ethics rules and commission effort nor the attempt to establish an independent redistricting commission gathered enough signatures by the deadline. The ethics initiative is continuing under what organizers say is a law giving them until Aug. 12 to qualify for the 2012 ballot. (See their website here.)
My question is, are the qualifications to get on the ballot too difficult? Do you think it should be easier for the people to bypass the Legislature and create laws?
Utah lawmakers don’t think so, and they are following a long tradition of standing firm against citizen initiatives. Utah was the second state to allow initiatives, following close on the heels of South Dakota in 1900. Voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment allowing them, but it took 16 long years for lawmakers to pass enabling legislation, establishing the rules under which this new power would operate.
Those rules were extremely strict. You basically had to find a judge and make an appointment so you could sign a petition in front of an official witness. The state didn’t actually pass an initiative until 1961, when the rules were relaxed a bit.
Today, you have to acquire valid signatures from registered voters in a number equal to 10 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election, and they have to come from 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts. That’s 10 percent from each district, which can be tough when you’re in some of the state’s far-flung rural areas.
My take? The state needs a high bar. We have a representative government for a reason. Bills are vetted through hearings, amendments and the give-and-take among people elected to study and decide important matters. It should not be easy for the public to circumvent that with petitions that are too easily influenced by special interests.
However, the public deserves the right to reasonably force change where politicians, for whatever reason, do not respond to the public will. The bar currently is a bit too high. Maybe it should be 20 of 29 districts, or counties. It once was 50 percent of counties.
What’s your take?