Senator Jim Bolin joins his colleagues Rep. Tim Reed and Senator Ernie Otten in the continuing Republican war against people power. Even though he said in July that now isn’t the time to cap ballot measures, the interim task force on initiative and referendum has on its Wednesday agenda Draft Bill #110, a proposal attributed to Senator Bolin that would limit the number of constitutional amendments on any ballot to four: two submitted by the Legislature and two submitted by voters by initiative petition.
As a constitutional amendment, Bolin’s Draft #110 would overcome the existing Article 3 Section 1 provision that says we cannot “deprive the Legislature or any member thereof of the right to propose any measure.” But if three legislators can think up three useful changes to our constitution, there is no good reason to arbitrarily tell one of them to sit down and shut up.
Likewise for citizens: if three separate citizens or groups of citizens can identify important changes that we should make to our constitution to deal with new economic or political conditions, how do we decide which two ideas should go to a public vote now and which one should have to wait for two more years?
Even if there is such a thing as too many constitutional amendments at once, citizen initiative does not appear to be the source of that “problem.” Since we voted to allow amendment by initiative in 1972, citizens have placed more than two amendments on the ballot only once, in 2016. From 1974 to 2016, the Legislature has put more than four times as many amendments to a vote than citizens have:
Over four decades, citizens have shown far greater restraint in proposing amendments than the Legislature. Even in our big 2016, we still only approved one of our four amendments.
Historically, the greatest number of amendments on any ballot have come from the Legislature: nine in 1970, twelve in 1918, 224 since 1890.
Ballot measure caps at least insult if not directly violate the First Amendment. The Legislature has no compelling interest in restricting the number of constitutional topics on which voters may have meaningful discussions during an election year. The most amendments we’ve had to deal with on one ballot in the initiated-amendment era is eight, in 1998. We don’t need Senator Bolin or any other elitist official telling us that we’re too dumb to think about eight things at once. If citizens and legislators want to discuss eight or more amendments on the ballot, I say, bring them on! We the people are up to the task of reading, evaluating, and voting on our constitution.