Monday, December 28, 2009

The Problem with Petitions

Back when Marc Norman and his Citizens for Open Government were trying to overturn CB58-2008 (aka ZRA 100) through referendum, I wrote a post about the problem with the petition gathering process. As noble and democratically righteous as the concept of the right to petition the government for redress may sound on paper, it falls apart where the rubber meets the road.


The bottom line is that a large number of registered voters are ill informed and therefore lack a good understanding of the implications of signing a petition. This is aptly demonstrated by the video featured in this post on Free Market’s blog yesterday.

After watching this video I am more convinced than ever that the bar for petition gathering for referendums needs to be set very high.


Freemarket said...

Sadly, I suspect that voters are just as clueless in most cases as petition signers. Rational ignorance.

PZGURU said...

Exactly Freemarket! I was just going to bring up that very point. Why stop at petition signing? Maybe there should be an IQ test requirement and citizens must score a certain number of points before they can be deemed qualified to vote? Think of how mis-informed the lemmings of this country are, and how the news and politicians constantly lie and manipulate the voting populous. I can think of about 20 million people who feel pretty duped by Obama and his campaign of deceit.

Bob O said...

A rational voice.

Wordbones and, by extension, freemarket, how very disappointed I am in you both.

The idea that you are supposed to trust individuals to make decisions for themselve, e.g., adult humans know what they are doing when the sign petitions or buy homes in cul-de-sac developments, is key to democracy.

You both sound like you are throwing that idea out the door.

If you follow Wordbones' logic, we will all just put on Mao suits and sing "Deutcshland Uber Alles." We must control those who don't know well enough how to control themselves, so let's get them to march.

If you follow Freemarkets' reasoning, we'll all just disregard those unfortunates who just don't know better, and make decisions on their behalf so that their lives will be better.

Either way leads to Dachau or the Rape of the Ukraine.

I'm very disappointed in both of you.

Wordbones is missing most of his customer base with this point of view.

Freemarket is obviating everything he's ever said he believes.

How sad.

Did you guys take some pills or something?

Hey, can we get lunch?

Bob O said...

I'm serious. You guys are going down a rabbit hole....

Freemarket said...

Bob O, there are a large number of adult humans who have no idea what they are doing when they sign a petition or step into the voting booth.

This is a problem of rational ignorance, and the emphasis is on the word “rational”. The time and effort that it takes for people to learn about certain problems in society often exceeds the benefit. I trust individuals not to mix up the gas petal and the brake petal in their cars, because the consequences they experience as a result are incentive enough to get it right. No one will live very long if they can't get that straight. On the other hand, some people think that hot water gets from the water heater to the shower because there is a pump inside the hot water heater, and those people get by in life just fine. However, no working plumber shares that misconception about water heaters.

Do this: ask some random Howard County residents who their county council person is. Ask them who the county executive is. Ask them what the county council does. The people you ask might be fine doctors, mechanics, plumbers or whatever, but they are not good voters if they can't answer those questions at a bare minimum. The sort of people who read this blog are probably able to answer those simple questions, but the majority of voters are completely unable to do so.

A vote counts for so little and the issues are so complex that it makes sense to be uninformed. Sad but true.

Anonymous said...

Get a grip, Chairmen Mao (both of you). A referendum puts a matter to the voters. IT DOES NOT DECIDE ANYTHING.

Down the rabbit hole is an apt description.

On the other hand, keep up the good work. I always say, give 'em rope...

Anonymous said...

Real unemployment rates (hit play):

wordbones said...

Bob O,

Methinks you misunderstand me. I'm a big fan of representative democracy. I trust our elected representatives to make informed decisions after deliberation and discussion. I may not always agree with those decisions but I take some comfort in knowing that, at a minimum, they have heard from all sides of any given issue.

I'm not against petitioning for referendum. I do think the referendum process has been abused in Howard County. The right to petition for referendum should be reserved for serious issues facing our county like healthcare, not because someone doesn't like the size of a proposed grocery store. That, in my opinion, is abuse of a right.

Of course the real issue here is an informed electorate. The better a voter is informed the better chance we have for good decision making. I do think local blogs help to achieve that somewhat by fostering discussions such as this one.


Anonymous said...

The seriousness of referendum rights cannot be overstated. We have a representative democracy that allows for three methods of direct democracy for all sorts of reasons (see federalist papers).

The most important is citizen rights to petition the government.

In Howard County there has not been a successful referendum in many many years, so the case for abuse is unfounded.

Anonymous said...

It's an amusing video, but did you actually check out Mark Dice's website?! That's some scary stuff.

Anonymous said...

WBs and FMs support for the Dice character just goes to show that these bloggers will side with any extremist if the extremist goes along with the blogger's agendas.

FM threw his anti-religios belief under the bus in hopes of boosting his case for terminating right to petition.

WBs jumped on board in a lapse of judgement; he lacks the analytical ability to see how this discredits his own voice.

That's real class, guys.

wordbones said...

I'm really feeling the love today from my anonymous commenter's.


Buffalo Guy said...

Equating petitioning to voting is not exactly fair. The possibility of fraud is much greater with the petitoning process, since there is much less accountability involved. With that said, maybe a better system for petitioning should be required to give the referendum more validity (I.E. electronic signature pads that can verify the signee). I think as it stands now, referendums do not get the proper respect because people deem them unreliable. Also, I didn't get the impression WB's was flushing democracy down the toilet. I believe he was merely pointing out his lack of comfort with the current referendum process. Interesting debate however.

JustTheFacts said...


Can you please expand upon your premise that petitions are less reliable than the actual electoral process? I would suggest the facts prove exactly the opposite.

When a signed petition is submitted to the Board of Elections, the individual and their signature is compared with the electronic database scan of the original voter registration card.

This is contrasted with a voter who walks into the polls on Election Day. After the poll worker asks for their name and address, the individual is asked to sign a slip of paper and hand it to the person running the elections machines. Neither the voter's identity nor signature is ever verified.

Which process do you think is more reliable?

This surreal thread is Kafkaesque ( Thank you for providing undeniable proof of WB and FM's treatise.

Lastly, let's all get in line with WB to blindly follow the "Animal Farm" ( parade that our local officials proudly lead on land use issues.

Kevin said...

Let's retitle this post. Considering WB's willingness to discard almost 10,000 referendum signatures, maybe "Score One for the Little Guy" is more appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Buffalo chip, that's so wrong. We're allowed to vote willy nilly, but just try to get a signed petition past the board of elects - not happening.

Bob O said...