If YOU landed here for the first time, looking for a sample ballot or additional information and opinions regarding items that will appear on your ballot, know that you are decidedly not alone. Traffic statistics for our site are proving, once again, voters want to see sample ballots as early as possible, and they want to know more about ballot measures before they vote.
And, as one of your fellow citizens, impacted by the choices of other voters, I thank you for trying to inform yourself!
So, here we all are, trying to make good decisions. Where to go from there? It seems like the sheer number of items about which we must make careful decision increase with every election cycle.
While this article is being written by a Nebraskan, with a few references to items on Nebraskans’ ballots, I think the ideas presented here are likely to be useful to any voter in the country. That’s because they are basic principles and recommendations in pondering voting questions. Such ideas have broad use – at least I would hope they do. I direct remarks to visitors from outside of the state, because, our site statistics indicate we are getting incoming visitors from searches that would have to include such folks. For instance, although we attempt to include Nebraska references in our tags, inevitably, we will have visitors from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. If you’re reading this and you are indeed from outside of Nebraska, consider NOT hitting your back button just yet. ;-)
Perhaps I am truly just a “political geek” – someone who has an abnormal interest in the subject, in other words – but I find what is going on in states besides my own, very interesting and instructive. So, for anyone not in Nebraska, you might find it interesting to know, that besides the long list of candidates on Nebraska ballots on November 6, we also have FOUR proposed amendments to our state’s Constitution.
If it’s any encouragement to Nebraskans, the grass is NOT always greener on the other side of the fence: NE voters actually confront fewer proposed ballot measures than voters in Michigan, who must decide on six such measures. Yes, six. Our “sister group” there, Grassroots in Michigan (GiM), has been even busier than have we, in diving into those half-dozen questions.
Often, when we read the language of Proposed Amendments, bond issues, etc., the wording can be, to say the least, lacking in “real-world” meaning. Just WHAT does it all truly MEAN?
GiM’s leader, Joan and I, have discussed the various measures facing Michigan and Nebraska, and, in the process, we realized, there is a very important thing to remember before one begins diving into any detail associated with such questions.
The FIRST step in any decision-making process is to define a principled and rational criteria by which to operate.
Principles and a brief list of criteria are much easier to retain than very specific and minute information about the “soup (issue) of the day”.
I have to call it a “V-8 moment”, or maybe I should just say, “well, duuuh”. FIRST things FIRST, meaning first, consider your principles. I’m told by family and friends I spend more time thinking about this stuff than the average (translation = normal) person, so if I forgot to start with the FIRST thing, I thought’d be helpful to others, to share the list Joan and I pulled together.
For Nebraskans looking for specific recommendations regarding each of the four proposed amendments – hang on! and please note the following:
- We have already published articles on Proposed Amendments No. 3 & 4, which give basic information, history, and recommends questions to ponder
- We have scheduled a presentation – on two different dates, for voters’ convenience – during which we will examine Amendments No. 3 & 4 in more detail, along with other issues which are related to decisions about legislative candidates – we hope you will consider attending – click HERE for more information
- We will be publishing specific information and giving our recommendations for Proposed Amendments No. 1 & 2 in the next couple of days (so check back if you’ve got the time)
CRITERIA RE: VOTING “FOR” OR “AGAINST”
PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE STATE CONSTITUTION
Note: This list was rooted in the principles we have determined are the guiding philosophy for our group. Click here to read about our principles.
1. Constitutional changes are not to be done lightly. Any proposed amendments should be very thoroughly examined and considered.
Why such care?
Many reasons, but the one most worthy (and also appealing to individuals) is, that well written constitutions, designed for the primary purpose of protecting the inalienable (natural) rights of individuals and restraining governments’ power, are worth preserving.
The U.S. Constitution was definitely primarily written on that basis. And that Constitution was influenced by those adopted by the original 13 states, and, in turn, it influenced the remainder, including Nebraska’s.
If our object is to protect inalienable rights, and therefore, restrain government power, we should necessarily question whether proposed changes would alter the original language of a constitution in a way that endangers those worthy objectives. (For a thought-provoking quote from James Madison “The Father of the Constitution”, regarding the necessarily fixed nature of a constitution, see the bottom of this article.)
2. Is the proposed Amendment in pursuance of the philosophy of protecting inalienable rights (life, liberty, property, etc.) and restraining government power?
If there’s any risk to these fundamental principles, the answer is clear.
3. Why is this proposed amendment even needed?
- Is there ANY need for the proposed measure? In other words, does anything need to be done about the issue presented?
- Is there some solution, short of changing the Constitution, which would suffice or could be undertaken short of amending the Constitution?
- Could, would, or should, a legislative measure address the issue?
4. What are the potential unintended consequences of the proposed amendment?
To answer this question, we must look beyond the statements of those who proposed it, and the advocates. Did they miss anything?
Examining the language – is it possibly…poorly worded so that it is…
- Doesn’t clearly spell out how it addresses an issue, which may very well raise doubts that it can accomplish the stated purpose
- Could be interpreted to grant authority or power beyond that stated by those who proposed it
- Could be interpreted by a bureaucratic agency, which would find itself responsible for promulgating rules regarding the new law, in a way that was never intended
- Crafted so as to specifically target an issue or class of citizens, often a highly questionable action when it comes to a constitution, which is “the law of the land” and meant for all
- May serve as an inappropriate, and likely, therefore, ineffective band-aid for a broader set of problems
- Is it likely, due to the language, whether too vague / broad or too narrow, to invite litigation, to clarify meaning or challenge benefits or harm to particular groups?
- When a law or ballot measure is poorly written, the authors leave judges to interpret meaning, and this can result in an outcome that is vastly different from the originally stated purpose.
- Litigation costs incurred in challenges to law, are paid by taxpayers – whether they are the taxpayers of today or tomorrow (future challenges, borrowed funds).
5. What was the intent, who was involved, etc. in putting together and advocating for the proposed Amendment?
It’s important to note, in recent Nebraska history, due to successful efforts to limit citizens’ ability to undertake ballot initiatives, most of the proposed amendments to the Constitution now come from the Nebraska Legislature. And, it is also worth noting, that there have been at least one, but usually several Proposed Amendments on Nebraska ballots, in every election, both Primary and General, dating back many years.
A question that demands an answer at this point:
Should Nebraska’s legislators be attempting to make such frequent changes to our Constitution? (see number 1, above)
In order to assess and answer question #5 properly, it is vital to look beyond the rhetoric of advocates and even the opponents. It is naive to accept – wholesale – such rhetoric; we must start out skeptically if we want to dispassionately and independently assess the motivations.
- Are there are special, particular interests involved?
- Do those interests and natural rights align or conflict?
- Is the measure aimed at a particular group or even a certain individual, who would benefit?
- If yes, should there be constitutional changes made to benefit only certain individuals or particular groups?
- If a particular group stands to benefit, do the benefits provided by the measure come at the expense or even harm to taxpayers and citizens?
- Or, does the measure benefit citizens and taxpayers without either imposing upon their inalienable rights or increasing the expense of government (and ultimately then, increase the burden on taxpayers)?
6. Who supports / opposes the measure?
- Do the advocates’ philosophy of government align with your own?
- Are they credible, consistent, and “walk their talk”?
- Or is their support / opposition based consistently wholly on partisan logic alone?
James Madison, on reading the U.S. Constitution, as originally written:
“… I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution. And if that be not the guide in expounding it, there can be no security for a consistent and stable, more than for a faithful exercise of its powers. If the meaning of the text be sought in the changeable meaning of the words composing it, it is evident that the shape and attributes of the Government must partake of the changes to which the words and phrases of all living languages are constantly subject. What a metamorphosis would be produced in the code of law if all its ancient phraseology were to be taken in its modern sense!” ~ Letter to Henry Lee (25 June 1824)
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