Friday, August 14, 2015

What goes to Referendum

Across the world, referendums are frequently used for making changes to policy when politicians don't want to stick their necks out.

The biggest problem with referendums is that they are only usually used for things that politicians don't want to go through. When there is an issue that has immense support of the businesses that sell government materials to go to war or spy on people these issues don't go to referendum, but are passed in violation of the will of the people.

The biggest issue I see with referendums is how they are frequently staged. I frequently find the ballots to be written to confuse voters so people abstain which hurts people's faith in democracy. Initiatives need to be clearly written so people understand what they are voting for.

The last British referendum in 2011 to change their election system was fraught with problems and is one of the three recent referendums that makes me wary of how referendum are used. Here is a list:

  1. The Conservative Party made a large deliberate effort to misinform people in how ranked voting works. Anyone who has taken a comparative politics class (as many politicians have) should understand how the system works given how it is used in Ireland, Australia, and has the fewest issues when using standard election system criteria. This helped swing the election by making it so many voters didn't understand what they were talking about. Examples include claiming ranked voting supports extremist candidates, when they can only do this when they cross the threshold which is unlikely and is shown to not happen where ranked voting is used. Their use of Australia as an example of safe seats ignores the fact that there are only two parties in Australia who campaign for elections and have broad support, and it would be different in Britain because they have a tripartisan system which will make it so there will be fewer spoilt seats. The Conservatives made these lies because they are in the minority and only 36% of people in Britain support them which means they would need to reach out to voters under such a system and abandon their corrupt practices and support of issues like the Iraq War and Austerity. Labour is a center-right party when it comes to their positions which is why they failed to make a stance. Their party would split because they are the party of Tony Blair who destroyed Britain with his colleague Margaret Thatcher given how he didn't propose any alternative and now they are stuck with David Cameron. This is these old stuffy and corrupt parties made the stances they did.
  2. The people in favor of the referendum made mistakes in how they campaigned. One example is how they didn't address tactical voting which is absolutely necessary in FPTP because you can't necessarily vote for who you want but is less so in ranked voting because you can vote for exactly who you want regardless of who other people are voting for. They messed that up. They could have pointed out the fact that over 60% of people in Britain oppose the Conservative Party but they won over 50% of the seats which violates the majority criterion and a ranked voting system would fix this problem and force the Conservatives to appeal to voters, but they failed to do this in their foolishness. Such mistakes makes me doubt how much into the issue they really were.
The same question was asked by New Zealand's Referendum in 2011 when voters were asked which voting system they want to use. Most people don't know enough about certain issues and don't have the time or energy to fully understand which option is best for them. You end up with people voting along party lines against their own interest. It would be far better for the politicians who are directly elected by the people to be given a commission of experts (in this case, political scientists) who understand the pros and cons to each system and then choose the best option. Most people don't have the education they need to make an informed decision, and all people end up being worse off.

My final example (getting off the elections on elections issue) is more local for me, with a proposal for greater Seattle's mass transit referendum going up once again next year on whether to expand mass transit. There is absolutely no reason Sound Transit should not have the full authority under the local governments it is a union of (Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties which compose the core of the Greater Seattle area) to have the full authority to consult with urban engineers to design the best possible mass transit plan for the region, develop how to do it as efficiently a possible, and then provide the service that our region needs to cut down on congestion and maintain our quality of life. A 10 year time frame is frankly ridiculous given how China built high-speed rail across an area the size of the US East of the Mississippi in around 5 years. The County Councils should have the authority to collect taxes and spend as they see fit, given how they are elected by the people directly, so that they can gather the information to make the best decision for the people. All in all, I think the use of referendums should be outlawed and governments should be required to govern. If people don't like the decisions the county council makes, they have every right to run an initiative on the issue, run against them in the next election,  and then vote them out in the next election.

Despite my distrust of referenda, I still believe we should continue to be able to use initiatives as needed. We have several initiatives growing right now in Washington State which have a lot of support. One is the Carbon Tax which I am putting some time and energy into because I know it is the best way to reduce our carbon emissions while receiving our double dividend, and will help make our tax structure more progressive. It will send a clear message to the legislature that this is an important issue for a majority of people in our state. This is a good and necessary part of any democratic society and an essential check on the power of the government. I also think that we should be able to have a national initiative in the USA assuming we get the right percentage of voters to sign on to the ballot.

When there is an idea in a legislature, they should only have two options, to pass it or kill it. They should not be able to weasel their way out of governing by sending it to the people. They should have the full ability to tax and spend as needed, and if people have a problem with this they should have every right to repeal laws by the initiative process or vote their legislators out. All referenda tend to do is postpone essential services which people need and usually don't understand.

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