Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I-502: A good example of why you should get the facts before you vote

 [Disclaimer: The following is an op-ed piece. All opinions are mine alone, and unless otherwise indicated, are expressed as generalities. I welcome your feedback, but ask that you please read this article in its entirety before you contact me.]

Two weeks from today, Washington state voters will decide on 3 Initiative measures, 1 Referendum, 1 Engrossed Senate Joint Resolution, 1 Senate Joint Resolution, and 2 Advisory Votes. Of course, there are also a few state and federal candidates to pick from as well, but I really don't want to talk about them right now.

No doubt my position will seem harsh to some (possibly most) of you, but I am frustrated with the apparent ability of voters to be influenced in their choices mainly by advertising. In advertising, he who spends the most wins. And it seems to me that voters are perfectly content to allow someone else to tell them how to vote.

Here's a recent example. If you voted in favor of privatizing Washington State liquor sales, believing that a "yes" vote would result in lower liquor prices, how do you feel about that now? Why do you think Costco spent well over $20 million in advertising in favor of this measure? Because they knew that ultimately it would pay off, in a big way, for them. And look -- it worked. The measure passed, and my favorite Irish whiskey went from about $21 per bottle to about $35. (I've refused to buy it ever since.) Yet most people I know voted for this measure, and it passed by a comfortable margin.

We live off the grid. We have neither a television nor full-time Internet service. We don't subscribe to a daily newspaper, and choose to listen to public radio. Think I feel deprived? I do not. Of course, I'm missing out on all the attack ads, the biased sound bites that conveniently leave out critical details, and the bold-face headlines that purport to accurately summarize the issues (or the candidate's position).

So, you may be asking, how in the world do I make an informed decision when it comes time to cast my vote? Here it is: I read the Voter's Pamphlet. I study the Explanatory Statements, read the Argument For and the Argument Against (and observe who actually wrote those arguments -- very illuminating), discuss anything I'm confused about with someone I trust who won't judge me, and make an informed choice.

I think an example from the upcoming election is appropriate here. Please understand that my intent is not to influence your vote; I simply wish to illustrate the frequently vast difference between the headline (the short description on the ballot, and, incidentally, in the advertising) and the way the proposed law actually reads.

Ask anyone on the street about Initiative Measure 502, and they will likely say, "Oh, that's the one that will legalize marijuana." I have heard one or two ads (when I inadvertently landed on an AM radio station in my car) that emphasize all the new revenue that will gush into the State treasury from related licensing fees and new taxes. They say that too many law-enforcement resources are being wasted on such minor crimes as marijuana possession, and we should be prioritizing those resources to deal with more major crimes and criminals.

[For the record, I don't use marijuana. I've never even tried it. I have no personal axe to grind here. I simply believe this is a badly-written initiative that will set some disturbing precedents if it's passed.]

Here's the headline: "This measure would license and regulate marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons over twenty-one; remove state-law criminal and civil penalties for activities that it authorizes; tax marijuana sales; and earmark marijuana-related revenues."

I was frankly appalled when I read the statement explaining the effect of this measure if approved. If you don't have the time to read the whole thing, please read the "Argument Against" following the Explanatory Statement in your Voter's Pamphlet. It does a good job of summarizing the numerous red flags in this measure; among others, the one detailing the changes to the present DUI laws. And at the very end of the explanatory statement, hanging out there with no additional information, is this amazing sentence: "Federal marijuana law could still be enforced in Washington."

Huh? So, let's say this initiative passes. If you're over 21, you can now legally buy and use marijuana (although you can only buy it from a state-licensed producer, processor or retailer). But wait! Start getting used to looking over your shoulder, because the Feds could swoop in at any time and charge you with a felony. The "Argument Against" further explains that "[I-502] conflicts with federal law, voiding the possibility of any newly-generated tax revenue."

Supposedly the money to pay for the additional administrative costs involved in processing license fees, taxes and penalties will come from these revenues themselves (you know, the ones that are void under federal law). However, in "License Revenue Assumptions", we read: "We lack sufficient data to estimate the number of marijuana producers and marijuana processors who will apply for a license." In other words, the best they can do is guess.

There's a lot more to I-502, and the other issues up for consideration on the November 6 ballot. I believe that voting is a privilege as well as our right in this country, and privileges come with responsibilities. Who or what you vote for is up to you. Whichever way you vote on I-502, for example, please consider carefully exactly why you're voting that way.

What if voters had to pass a test before each election, to show that they understand what they're voting for or against? Realistically, many people simply don't have the time to read the entire text of proposed laws (the text of I-502 goes on, in small print, for over 17 pages). Here's an idea: Turn off your TV. Turn off your iPhone. Pick up the Voter's Pamphlet. If you want to know what you're really voting for or against, you'll have to put in some effort.

As I said, my intent is not to persuade you to vote one way or another on I-502 or any other issue or candidate. As a society, we are far too easily influenced by advertising, even when it comes to issues of civil rights and personal privacy. I'm suggesting we shut out the noise for a minute, and think for ourselves. It's our responsibility.