Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A quick look at the constitutional amendments on the General Election ballot

Voters will face two amendments on the General Election ballot this year.

The ESPC supports passage of Amendment A, which simplifies the oath of office sworn by public officials.

But we have a different take on Amendment B, which changes the requirements of citizens attempting to circumvent the Legislature to propose new law through an initiative petition. These petitions subject the proposed legislation to a direct vote by Wyoming citizens.

They are very difficult to get on the ballot. Historically, few have been successful, even when popular. Former state Rep. Ann Robinson failed in her widely supported effort to get the sales tax off food. The time limits on petitions and signature requirements mean that only efforts that have the funds needed to pay signature gatherers have made it to the ballot in the past 10 or 12 years.

Of the states with initiative petition, Wyoming already requires the highest number of voter signatures (15%) needed to put a proposal directly on the ballot. In 1997, lawmakers decided to make it even harder by proposing a constitutional amendment requiring that the signatures be gathered from at least 2/3rds of Wyoming’s counties.

Lawmakers were warned this violates the principle of “one person, one vote” because county populations are wildly unequal. They went ahead and voters passed the amendment. Now, legislators want to insulate the requirement from a legal challenge on constitutional grounds, but they don’t want to make the initiative process more accessible.

This is a Band-aid meant to make the Legislature comfortable. We urge voters to leave their ballot blank on Amendment B.

Leaving the ballot blank is equivalent to casting a no vote.