Bring on the Personhood Initiatives in 2012

After the huge defeat of the so-called “personhood” ballot initiative in Mississippi yesterday, combined with the defeats in Colorado the past midterm and general elections, there’s good reason for Democrats to be giddy about the possibility that  Personhood USA and its state affiliates might actually qualify similar extreme ballot measures in more states for the 2012 general election.

The Mississippi ballot measure would have given legal “personhood” status to undeveloped zygotes. There’s goes our 7 billion population count…

But seriously, Democrats might think about encouraging Personhood USA co-founder Keith Mason to continue to blame the defeat of Proposition 26 Planned Parenthood and other progressive pro-choice organizations and elected officials. As Mason explained to the Huffington Post:

It’s not because the people are not pro-life. It’s because Planned Parenthood put a lot of misconceptions and lies in front of folks and created a lot of confusion.

Bryan Longworth, director of Personhood Florida, helpfully elaborated:

We’re not discouraged. It shows that the arguments that are being raised by Planned Parenthood, the scare tactics, and the second-guessing of Governor Haley Barbour did play a role.

Taking a page out of the RNC’s playbook when they helped to finance Proposition 209 in California in 1996, perhaps Democrats should actually encourage the qualification of personhood initiatives in Florida, Ohio, and other battleground states that permit direct democracy. Democratic candidates will have a clear wedge issue on which to run against Republicans. Wedge issues on the ballot have worked for Republicans in California and Colorado, as I write about in this 2001 article with Caroline Tolbert, “The Initiative to Party.”  Ballot measures can also have “educative effects” that help Democratic candidates, most notably, the minimum wage issues on the ballot in six states in 2006, as we analyze in our 2010 article, “Direct Democracy, Public Opinion, and Candidate Choice.”

As a scholar of direct democracy, the more initiatives on the ballot, the more to study.

Get Petitioning, Personhood USA!

 

It’s Time to Disclose Washington’s Referendum 71 Petition Signatures

As reported in the Seattle Times, a federal judge in Tacoma, Washington, is expected to rule in the next two weeks on whether the 137,500 names collected on Referendum 71 petitions should be made public.  The 2009 signature gathering campaign by Protect Marriage was an effort to use a popular referendum to overturn the state legislature’s domestic-partnership law.

As the lead author of  an amicus brief on behalf of the state of Washington and its defense of the state’s Public Records Act in the 2010 case, Doe v. Reed, in which the US Supreme Court upheld the state’s interest in disclosure, there is no question that the names on the petitions should be made public.  As I wrote in my amicus brief, there’s little credible evidence that signers of Referendum 71 petitions in Washington were subject to threats or harassment.  As our amicus brief states:

Nor does disclosure create any risk of intimidation or harassment of signers. Of the approximately 600,000 voters who signed referendum petitions in Washington in the last decade, Petitioners have failed to identify a single individual who claims to have been harassed or intimidated as a result of mere disclosure of her signature. More than a million names of signers of petitions for referenda and initiatives opposing gay marriage have been posted on the internet. Yet there is no evidence that any of these signers has faced any threat of retaliation or harassment by reason of that disclosure.

Furthermore, as we note in our brief:

Disclosure does not “infringe ‘privacy of identity, association and belief,’ as Petitioners suggest, because there is no reasonable expectation or assumption of privacy or secrecy: any voter who signs a petition knows that her signature, name and address, and the fact that she is signing, are being put on paper in the hands of a stranger, in a public place, in front of others, and then submitted to a government agency. Further, public disclosure of petitions is widespread and routine in states that allow ballot initiatives and referenda.

Public disclosure of signatures on ballot measures is also necessary to ensure fraud is not being committed during signature gathering phase and the state of Washington has a compelling interest in making signatures part of the public record.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle should heed the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote pointedly in his concurring opinion in Doe v. Reed, why disclosure is necessary, and can embolden citizens.

There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self governance…Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.

Signed,

Not Anonymous.