Confusing Ballot Proposals…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 3, 2008

We had two state ballot proposals here in Michigan. I could describe them to you, link you to the exact language, and give you an analysis of possible scenarios — or I could just tell you they were on medical marijuana and stem cell research, for them or against them? Because that’s what ballot proposals are — a popularity contest on the concept and not on the actual law or amendment.

It’s a really stupid way to govern ourselves. Well, stupid and lazy. Instead of the legislative branch doing what they are supposed to do — researching and crafting a law — it gets turned over to special interest groups who have money and an axe to grind, and no real concern for the actual implications. (Let the courts sort it out and then complain about activist judges, I guess.) So you end up with the mystifying circumstance of the Michigan constitution — the general, overriding document for guiding our state laws — with an amendment that says basically you can’t not allow stem cell research. Really doesn’t sound like a guiding principle to me. No more than can’t not being a man and a woman to marry — that one passed four years ago….

Medical marijuana usage has been approved, sort of, mostly, well….. This one wasn’t amended to the constitution (why not?), but the proposal was pretty short on specifics. Those who might benefit — say chemotherapy patients — will have to take guesses at what exactly is allowed and hope they aren’t outside the law. What fun for them!

Of course, there are instances where ballot proposals are useful. In Ottawa County, folks got to vote whether to allow sales of beer and wine on Sundays. A popularity contest makes sense here: do most people want the sales of something very well defined and understood, yes or no? But then, to approve sales, you had to vote “no.” To deny sales, you had to vote “yes.” Sigh. Even when ballot proposals are straightforward, they’re confusing….

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