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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

05 November 2005

Ballot initiatives

The New York Times has a very sensible editorial about the proliferation of ballot initiatives; it reads: “Government by referendum should come with a warning: vote yes at your own risk. Measures placed on the ballot by citizen initiatives are by their nature missing the devil of the details. The questions are designed to be brief, often to the point of being misleading or confusing. When the list is interminable, as it is in some states this year, the overwhelmed voter might be best advised to just say no” (1).

It seems almost axiomatic that giving people more power to decide on matters is a good thing. But most people lack the inclination, interest or details to judge the matter fairly. They are also rather restricted in their decision-making: they are usually given two choices to pick from, as if those two options represented the two most reasonable positions.

Ballot initiatives try to square off two impossible positions: they try to make ballots succinct and understandable and in doing so take away the nuts and bolts of government—“the devil of the details,” as the Times put it. There is a reason that America is a republic and not a democracy, going back to the Founders’ distrust of democracy. This is all too often forgotten by those who want to bring more and more initiatives before the public.

(1) “That flurry of ballot questions,” New York Times, 5 Nov 05 (link)


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