Election facts: three weird secrets for crafting the ultimate direct-democracy ballot proposal

by worstideas

Background:

Many jurisdictions allow a limited degree of direct democracy, where citizens can submit any measure to be voted on (for example: “the city will buy everyone a free horse to eat at Thanksgiving”). If a measure gets a sufficient number of signatures, it must be placed on the ballot.

Proposal:

It’s generally a lot of work to propose a valid ballot measure. But using the helpful tips below, you too can craft a successful ballot measure!

Make sure to:

  • Appeal to voters’ wallets. If your measure requires a new tax to support it, it is probably a non-starter.
    • Example 1: Prohibit increases in rent (note that this measure will be unpopular with landlords)
    • Example 2: Prohibit increases in property tax
    • Instead of funding your measure with taxes, you can propose a bond issuance (essentially just a loan) instead. Since this will not directly increase any taxes in an obvious way, voters are less likely to be opposed to it [1].
  • Appeal to people’s inherent dislike of change. Examples:
    • Prohibit new construction
    • Prohibit businesses in a residential area, and vice-versa
    • Restrict new businesses from coming into an area and competing with existing businesses
    • Prevent any external / façade modification of buildings
  • Choose an appealing name.
    • Example 1: a measure that de-funds all schools and sends children to work in the salt mines: “Hands-on Job Experience Primary School Education”
    • Example 2: a measure that turns all public parks into fenced-in garbage dumps: “Put Our Land to Work: Cheaper Trash Dropoffs and Parks that Pay for Themselves.”

Despite the examples directly above, it will be easier to pass a proposition that maintains the status quo. Your ideal proposition should both maintain the status quo and have an catchy name.

Here are two contrasting measures that make use of the above techniques:

MeasureR vs. MeasureH

Fig 1. Two conflicting sample measures that are frequently found on real-world ballots. While these specific ones may be too cartoonish to pass as currently written, they would have a chance with some creative re-wording! Use these as a template for your own ballot measure.

PROS: These ballot propositions will allow all voters to weigh in on important matters.

CONS: If citizens get too much democracy, this may result in “democracy overload,” which will instantly cause the government to revert to medieval feudalism [2].

[1]: Citation: just made up now, but might be true since it allows the proposition to avoid containing the word “tax.”

[2]: Citation: personal communication.

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