With regard to ballot issues, separating the process from politics and personalities is useful.
An Associated Press analysis published Sunday posed the following question: “Is it time to remove the responsibility of summarizing ballot initiatives from the secretary of state — who is elected under a partisan label — and transfer the duty to a nonpartisan or bipartisan entity?”
The question arises because ballot issues almost invariably are challenged in the courts. And the accuracy or fairness of the ballot title frequently is the basis for the legal action.
States use a variety of procedures to create ballot titles from proposals advanced by lawmakers or citizen initiatives. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, they may be written by: proponents, the attorney general, the secretary of state, a bipartisan state board or nonpartisan legislative staff.
Republican candidates for the secretary of state position being vacated by Democrat Robin Carnahan offer differing opinions. One favors creating a bipartisan panel, a concept the two other contenders oppose as an added layer of bureaucracy.
An example of a legal challenge to a ballot title was the focus of a Wednesday news story, which outlined Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder’s objection to Carnahan’s ballot title on a health care measure. Kinder characterized the language as “blatantly false, deceptive and intended to mislead the people.”
Ballot language is important.
The title may determine whether a voter favors or opposes an issue that will affect all Missourians.
Consequently, the process to determine ballot language also is important — more important than the politics and personalities that come into play.
When we consider the variety of procedures used by states, none seems preferable to Missouri’s established procedure.
A bipartisan or nonpartisan entity sounds preferable in theory, but, as a practical matter, it is unrealistic. Any such entity likely would be criticized and challenged, not unlike the existing procedure.
Legal challenges to the work product of the partisan secretary of state are heard by the courts, which is the appropriate venue.
The judiciary — our third branch of government — is established to interpret laws and language, and, depending on the nature of the litigation, to determine what is constitutional, just or fair.
Copyright Jefferson City News Tribune. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.