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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

I voted today. The lines were long and absentee, or 'early', voting might have taken less time. On the other hand, I consider voting to be a community, not a solitary, affair.

Since the choices were quite unpalatable, I held my nose (not too hard because I didn't want to hurt myself), and voted against those that I did not like. On the other hand, in Alexandria, Virginia, we were spared the avalanche of Questions, Initiatives, and Constitutional Amendments that afflicts voters in many - mostly western - states.

We usually exhibit a spectacular lack of trust in our politicians - often expressed by permitting laws to be passed by Initiative while also requiring some spending and borrowing to be approved by the voters. That is no bad thing although obsessive single issue voters may have more influence than we might like.

The initiative process becomes a problem when Constitutional Amendments appear on the ballot. Constitutions should concern themselves with process not policy. Matters that are properly addressed by constitutions include the organization of government and its method of operation, the powers granted to the government, the limits of government power and the rights and obligations of citizens. When constitutions stray into matters of policy, trouble often ensues.

That was certainly the case when the Volstead Act, which legislated Prohibition, became nearly graven in stone with the ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919. The damage to society caused by organized crime - and by turning ordinary citizens into criminals - was recognized quite quickly. Prohibition, however, could not end until the Congress finally proposed the 21st Amendment in February 1933 and it was ratified by the states in December 1933.

Legislation that turns out to be bad or misguided can be repealed - and the authors evicted from office. It is hard to repeal ill thought out Constitutional Amendments and even harder to hold the authors responsible. Better, then, to avoid entrenching policy decisions in Constitutions.

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