It’s nail-biting time for supporters and opponents of the four initiative proposals that citizens are trying to place on the 2018 November ballot. Tuesday, May 15, is the deadline for initiative opponents to turn in documents rescinding signatures. After Tuesday, the lieutenant governor’s office will total the number of signatures verified, the number of signatures rescinded, and will determine which initiatives qualify for the ballot. That likely won’t end the controversies, however. If passed, the initiatives would institutionalize Count My Vote, fully expand Medicaid, create a commission to propose political district boundaries and allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes. The rescind efforts have sparked accusations of deception and even bullying. What is going on here? Supporters and opponents of the initiative efforts are accusing the other of unfair tactics, misleading messaging, false representations, intimidating behavior and other outrageous activities. So the initiative campaigns have devolved into … resembling every political contest for the last 10,000 years of human history.
Direct democracy is just as nasty, brutish, competitive, energetic and important as representative democracy. Until this year, Utahns only infrequently experienced such trauma. Two initiatives passed in 2000 and a referendum (to repeal the legislative sponsored school voucher law) in 2004. In response to both, the Legislature established such high hurdles any similar attempts for ballot measures since then faltered or were voluntarily extinguished.
But our local political environment has dramatically changed. The CMV compromise legislation created a permanent signature gathering industry. Data analytics provides better targeting of, and messaging to, voters. Social media inexpensively and efficiently enthuses supporters and detractors. Large well-funded special-interest groups commit massive resources. These dynamics breed emotional controversy.