Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Editorial: Screw the voters

Today the unnamed editor sticks up for Secretary of State Ken Bennett in trying to kick the sales-tax initiative off the ballot. After clearly stating his opposition to the measure, he declares adherence to the fine points of procedure more important than the will of the voters.

If this stickling for the letter of the law were his real motivation, why does he feel compelled to go on about how he doesn't like the idea of a new sales-tax extension? To me this screams of an argument rigged to reach a preset conclusion.

Along the way, the editor mischaracterizes the proposed tax as "only an extension of a current tax." In point of fact the new proposal is better designed to focus the funds on education and keep them out of the hands of the Legislature, which has misappropriated them over the past three years.

He also holds back some important information in saying that Bennett "believes that the group's submitted paperwork does not match the verbiage on the circulated petitions." The backstory is that the group did indeed file two versions with the SoS's office, one in hard copy and a slightly longer one in electronic form that it wound up using for its petitions. Bennett's staff never looked at the version on CD to make sure the two versions were reconciled, and rather than do the sensible thing and paste the CD version into the website, they accepted the paper version as the only one and retyped the hard copy. This doesn't sound like smart management to me.

For the record, I won't support another sales-tax extension either. I think our retailers and less-well-off consumers have taken it in the shorts for the Legislature's incompetence long enough.

But liking or disliking the tax is beside the point. More than 290,000 voters signed petitions asking for the vote, and the mistake by Mr Bennett's office in putting the wrong version on his website cannot invalidate the intentions of the voters who signed on to the actual petition language.

If we truly care about the the headline's "integrity of the process," we have to go with the voters, not the legal dodge that best suits the outcome we want, and the court agrees.  If we hope to live up to our ideals and encourage more people to participate in public life, our electoral and initiative processes have to be inclusive. We have to do our best to give ideas and people a chance to prove themselves whenever we can. Using niggly procedures and arbitrary obstacles to keep people out only confirms the idea that the game is rigged.