Insight from veteran Nevada reporter Dennis Myers

See also occasional postings of Poor Denny's Almanac at the NevadaLabor.com Breaking News & Bulletins Section

Dennis Myers blogs at the Reno News & Review

Skinned and Barbecued
GOP governor & lawmakers turn Democrats into Jimmy Carter's attack rabbit

Dennis Myers / Reno News & Review / 6-16-2011

Workers only got worked over by the "jobs-jobs-jobs" legislature
Dennis Myers / Reno News & Review / 6-9-2011

2011 Legislative Session Became a War Against Workers
And with the neglect of media stenographers, the workers lost —> badly
Reno News & Review Editorial / 6-9-2011

Required Reading: Myers on 8 freakin' years of war

MORE MYERS: Boston Tea Party was a protest of a tax cut
Poor Denny's Almanac 12-16-2010

Death Star: Myers STAR bonds exposés
Reno News & Review, April 2 and 25, 2009
See also Cabellyup.com

MORE MYERS : Ghosts of Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Latin America
Poor Denny's Almanac 6-21-2005

One person, one signature
By Dennis Myers
Daily Sparks Tribune / December 5, 2003

On November 19, a group of right wing political activists filed suit in federal court to overturn a restrictive formula that signature gatherers must follow to get an initiative petition on the Nevada ballot. The activists are opposed to the tax plan approved by the 2003 Nevada Legislature.

By trying to open up the initiative process and make it easier to use and fairer, they are doing a service for all Nevadans. For their trouble they are being criticized for being undemocratic.

The formula they are challenging requires petitioners to get ten percent of their signatures in each of three fourths of the counties. This means that signature gatherers cannot simply go where the people are. They must go into the hamlets of rural Nevada, which becomes a much more expensive process and makes initiative campaigns, like candidate campaigns, big business — out of the reach of ordinary citizens. In recent years, with one exception, no initiative petition has been able to make it onto the ballot without paid signature gatherers.

To give an idea of how undemocratic the multi-county signature formula is, consider this: An initiative campaign could gather signatures from every human being in a dozen of the state's 17 counties, giving it nearly 100 percent of Nevada's voters on a petition, and would still fail to qualify for the ballot because tiny counties like Esmeralda (in which fewer than 450 people voted in 2002) were not represented.

Many years ago legislative researcher Andrew Grose did the math and, while I don't remember the actual figures, it was something like one voter's signature in Clark or Washoe was equivalent to three or four signatures in the small counties.

The political process represents people, not geography. There is no reason why the signature of one voter should be more valuable than another. One person, one vote, one signature.

When the U.S. Supreme Court in its Reynolds vs Sims decision mandated one person/one vote in the apportionment of state legislatures, Chief Justice Warren wrote, "Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests." The same may be said of initiative petitions, which speak for people, not for artificial jurisdictions like counties.

The Las Vegas Sun last week criticized the lawsuit, editorializing that this formula "was crafted in order to ensure that people throughout the state would have a say on proposed changes that would affect them."

No, it wasn't. The Sun is rewriting history. The formula was crafted by the Nevada business community in 1958 for the sole and single purpose of preventing organized labor from putting measures on the ballot. In a nifty case of unintended consequences, a business-oriented group is now the victim of this anti-labor measure.

The Sun editorial writer further wrote, "The framers of the constitution did not want densely populated counties dominating the process."

In fact, the framers of the constitution did not write this formula, or, for that matter, the initiative law. The initiative was put into the constitution 40 years after the framers of the Nevada Constitution finished their work, and the restrictive formula was added 54 years after that. But even so, what's wrong with densely populated counties dominating the process? By an overwhelming margin, that is where most voters live. (Nevada is one of the five most urban states in the nation, since nearly everyone lives in the two largest counties.) The people of the state, not its trees or mines, are SUPPOSED to dominate the process.

This signature formula is really just one in a long list of techniques used by conservatives to win victories through process and procedure that they cannot win by, you know, actually getting more votes in elections.

By making the political process less functional with techniques like supermajorities, restrictive petition formulas, term limits, and so on, right wing complaints about the uselessness of government become self-fulfilling. Granted, those who filed this lawsuit are perfectly comfortable using these techniques when it suits their purposes, but the merit of an idea should not depend on its sponsor, and this idea has great merit.

_______________
Dennis Myers is a longtime Nevada reporter. This column also appeared in the Dec. 5
Pahrump Valley Times. Copyright © 2003 Dennis Myers, used with permission.

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