Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur
jducoeur

Amidst the noise, let's look at the ballot questions

Everyone's been focused on the actual election this time around (which is great). But let's take a moment to examine the ballot questions that will be available in MA this year.

First off: the official listing of the questions, including the petitions themselves and the arguments for and against, can be found on the Elections Commision page. I recommend taking a few minutes to look it over before going to vote, since this stuff is a nuisance to figure out while you're standing in the voting booth.

Some of my current opinions, not necessarily final, which I throw open for discussion:

Question 1 is the one that you've probably heard about if you have watched any TV at all in the past few months. Like so many ballot questions, it is phrased differently by the two sides: it's "grocery store wine" if you're for it, or "convenience store alcohol" if you're against it. (The first invoking the idea of nice friendly little stores run by Mom and Pop, the second providing images of teenagers passed out in front of 7-11.)

Let's be clear here: this one is noisy precisely because of the money involved. Liquor stores stand to lose significant sales if it passes; supermarkets stand to gain similarly. Hence, both sides have poured a *considerable* amount of money into ads that are, if not precisely misleading, at least pretty well slanted. The No campaign is typically overstated (most "No" ballot questions are fear-oriented), but the Yes campaign does quietly ignore the ramifications.

(I should state my biases here -- I am generally more disposed to favor questions that loosen the laws, more than those that tighten them. IMO, we live in an excessively regulated society. So I will tend to prefer changes that "allow" more than changes that "require" or "prevent".)

I personally consider this one an easy Yes. (Although I feel slightly traitorous, since the owner of Kappy's is a Lodge brother of mine.) The No campaign implies that every convenience store will wind up carrying booze, but that's untrue -- it simply allows local authorities to issue liquor licenses to such stores, and while it increases the number of available licenses, it doesn't increase them infinitely. They've tried to claim that it will lead to more drunk driving, but the evidence for that seems weak at best -- their claims that liquor store clerks are far better at regulating sales to underagers doesn't mesh especially well with my experiences. The only real restriction on local authorities is that all applicants for wine licenses must be treated equally, which is quite reasonable. There's nothing preventing stringent local regulation, though, and it explicitly permits the local authorities to set their fees appropriately.

So overall, I think this one is a very well-considered change, with little likely downside (for anyone except existing liquor stores) and moderate public benefit.

Question 2 is the subtlest of the questions, and interesting to me from a political-theory POV. Basically, it tweaks the rules to allow a candidate for public office to be nominated by multiple parties.

Again, this one is an "allow" change. Basically, the rules currently say that a given candidate can only be nominated by a single party. This change would remove that restriction. Again, it's opposed by vested powers -- in this case, the big parties, which lose a tiny amount of power due to it.

I don't think this change is anywhere near as apocalyptic as the No campaign would make it out to be -- they predict "massive voter confusion", but that's nonsense, and frankly pretty insulting to the electorate. Many states allow this approach, and having talked to a few friends in and from such states, they seem to all think that it's a perfectly nice (if minor) aspect of those states' laws.

It isn't likely to have a significant outcome on most elections, although it gives the minor parties just the tiniest chance of banding together and getting someone elected. It also gives them a small amount of political leverage: for instance, if the Green party were to throw its weight behind a Democratic candidate, they could point to the votes garnered by that candidate on the Green ticket as evidence of the number of voters who care about their issues.

Basically, it's makes the minor parties a shade more influential, since it would sometimes allow voters to vote for such a party while not feeling like they are "throwing away" their vote; that should increase the number of votes cast for those small parties. In some elections, that may matter; indeed, it may even prove occasionally crucial. I think it's less likely to matter hugely here than in states that have a razor-thin balance between the big parties, but in principle it seems like a good idea.

So again, this one's a Yes for me. Not a very important measure, but overall an appropriate lifting of a rule that only benefits the big parties while slightly hindering the electorate.

Question 3 is the one I have the most mixed feelings about. Basically, it lays the first step in allowing licensed in-home child-care providers to unionize.

Mind, I'm no fan of unions. My biases are those of the professional, and not unusual for my industry: I find unions weird and limiting, and my experiences with them have not, on the whole, been positive. That said, there's something to be said for philosophical consistency, and this does seem consistent with the general tenor of labor-relations laws. Insofar as one thinks that unions are a good idea, this one doesn't seem any less reasonable than the rest. And the question doesn't really cause anything to happen -- it simply allows unionization to happen, if the child-care providers choose to do so.

It's interesting to see the arguments here. In particular, no one stepped forward by the deadline to advance a "No" argument, which I suspect is because there aren't any organized vested interests against it. Eventually, one of the commisioners in the Dept. of Early Education presented an argument, claiming that this measure isn't being pushed by the child-care providers themselves, which leaves me a tad confused about who *is* behind the question. Is there an organization that is seeking to become the official union organizer for the child-care providers? Wouldn't surprise me, but it isn't obvious.

Overall, I'm more or less neutral on this one. It being again an "allow" question, my biases favor it; however, it does have some coercive elements to it. If certified, the union would have considerable influence over state child-care policy; whether that is good or bad is hard to know upfront. The union would (as unions always do) represent some people well, but wind up squashing some people who don't fit the union's mold. And it explicitly exempts the union from anti-trust laws (as I believe is fairly common for unions), which *always* makes me suspicious -- my libertarian biases aside, I tend to find those laws useful and important on the economic level.

So I'm likely to abstain on this one -- I don't care enough to vote it down, but I can't say I really *like* it...
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