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Our View: Keep the red tape in place for ballot initiatives

January 5, 2019

A Southern Arizona legislator wants to make it a lot easier for regular Joes to change the state constitution and state laws. Mark Finchem, a Republican from Oro Valley, isn’t wrong when he says it’s often impossibly hard for people seeking to place an initiative on election ballot. Before they can be approved, Arizona requires each initiative proponent to gather thousands of signatures (the number of signatures needed to place a measure on the ballot is based on the total number of votes cast for the governor in the previous election, according to Ballotpedia). Those signatures then have to be vetted and verified before the ballot measures can get a hearing by voters.

It’s a tedious, time-consuming and expensive process.

And it ought to stay that way.

Government by ballot proposition is an end-run around the legislative process.

Finchem’s proposal would make it easier to gather and verify signatures by turning to the internet. Doing so would remove some of the hurdles signature gatherers face, such as the need to hire paid circulators. In theory, however, that ease of use could make it more likely that Arizona voters could see dozens — or more — initiatives appear on future ballots. That’s the opposite of what needs to happen.

The direct democracy offered by ballot initiatives makes it a lot easier for special interests to push an agenda via well-funded campaigns rather than follow traditional legislative avenues.

It can also create problems when legislation pushed through the ballot process contains flaws such as constitutional conflicts. That’s when the courts get involved and frustrate matters even more.

And then there’s the matter of redundant government: With voters having the final say on so many legal matters, why are we even bothering with a representative government? We might as well tell our state senators, representatives and governor to stay home because hey, we’ve got this covered.

To his credit, Finchem says he’s no fan of ballot initiatives. He’s hoping to eliminate some of the work required of county officials to verify signatures by hand, which can be a laborious and costly undertaking, especially for counties that are strapped for cash. Again, Finchem’s not wrong — counties need the help. Perhaps a better solution would be to devote more money from the state to help counties pay for signature verification.

Ballot propositions certainly have a place in our system of government, but they should be few and far between. Keep some of the red tape in place, and let our legislators do their jobs so the wheels of government work as intended.

— Today’s News-Herald

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