Ballot questions cheapen the election process

NOTE:  After this article was released to newspapers, the Secretary of State ruled that the Chaves County ballot questions would not be included because of a missed filing deadline.

Sometimes New Mexico just embarrasses itself. The latest election ballot nonsense — with non-binding advisory questions on the ballot in several counties — is one of those occasions. These antics are too stupid for serious people to take seriously. And too offensive to earn anyone’s respect.

Last year, I heard a few leading Democrats say they were working to get an amendment to the state constitution to decriminalize marijuana on the 2014 election ballot – not because it was the right thing to do, not because New Mexico was ready to deal with the unintended consequences of legal marijuana, but because this would get large numbers of Democrats out to vote. They were probably right. Democratic voters are notorious for forgetting to show up in non-presidential years. Voting for their elected representatives and even their governor won’t get Democrats to the polls, but pot will.

These political leaders were willing to damage both our state’s constitutional process and the constitution itself, and to invite New Mexico to become the next stoner capital of the nation, to win one election. Not our proudest moment. They didn’t get their constitutional amendment, so Democratic county commissioners in Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties took up the cause and got non-binding advisory pot questions on the ballot locally. As if they would score that single victory and then put the Pandora (per our New Mexico colloquialism) back in the box.

I am not a good chess player, but I know that to succeed at chess you have to anticipate your opponent’s next move and be able to strategize several moves ahead. The same principle applies to more consequential things, where outcomes determine the fates of states and nations. War, for example. And political strategy. The other guy doesn’t just sit there like a stump and let you take advantage. He reacts. Like Republicans weren’t going to figure this out and employ the same stupid strategy.

As I write this, we have several advisory questions on the ballot in Chaves County, all sounding very Tea Party in origin except the question about wolves, which simply sounds anti-wolf. I’m guessing the Tea Party does not have a national position on wolves. Chaves County being the home of Roswell, they forgot to include a question in support of aliens – that is, the UFO kind — which might have benefitted the local economy. The questions have no force of law, because the county has no jurisdiction to do anything about them. They just take up space on the ballot and will no doubt confuse some voters. By the time you read this, more counties may have jumped on this bandwagon.

This process has started our state down a dangerously destructive path. It has cheapened and degraded the election process. It’s given all those cynics who cannot stomach either major party another reason to be disgusted with mainstream politics.

Our general election ballots are already overcrowded, and these questions make that worse. And it has created the expectation, no matter how unrealistic, that once the voters have spoken, government will do something to fulfill their wishes. Sorry. It won’t work that way. Bernalillo County has added a non-binding question about increasing gross receipts tax to pay for mental health services, which could be enacted locally, but even on that issue there’s no guarantee it will be done.

The ballot questions in Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties may bring out enough Democrats to swing the election for some legislative and judicial candidates. They also may disgust enough voters to make future election turnouts even lower. For county officials who supposedly believe in the essential worthiness of government, that’s your legacy.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2014

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