Obstructing Democracy in the U.S.
February 24, 2014


THIS IS WHAT – DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! THIS IS WHAT – DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! (video) That was the chant inside the capitols of both Wisconsin and Michigan this spring as thousands protested the actions of their governors and legislatures. But shouting it over and over doesn’t make it true.

Democracy is not a chanting mob. Democracy is rule by the majority of the people through elected representatives - and that is exactly what the demonstrators were protesting. In Wisconsin, demonstrators actually tried to interfere with the process, their loud chanting and drum beating making work unbearable for anyone in the capitol building, while Democratic members of the state Assembly fled the state to deny the Assembly a quorum.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of free speech and the right to assemble peaceably and petition the government, but not to interfere with the legislative process, the essence of democracy.

The demonstrations are one example of what appears to be a concerted effort by unions and their supporters to obstruct the democratic process. They feel threatened by Republican/tea party successes in last fall’s election and are not going to let a little thing like democratic tradition keep them from hanging on to past gains.

Example #2: “Card check” is organized labor’s attempt to deny workers the right to the secret ballot in union elections. As long as there is no objection from the employer, the National Labor Relations Act allows workers to choose their representation simply by signing a card. The employer can, however, demand an election by secret ballot. With the Employee Free Choice Act, introduced in 2009, the employer could no longer insist on election by secret ballot. Former senator George McGovern, no longer dependent on union campaign contributions, urged his fellow Democrats to oppose the Act:

We cannot be a party that strips working Americans of the right to a secret-ballot election. We are the party that has always defended the rights of the working class. To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed. (Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2008)

See February 17, 2014 Mackinaw Center article "VW Vote Shows 'Card Check' Still a Fraud".

Example #3: The ballot initiative is direct democracy – democracy at its purest. Only 14 states allow voters to use the initiative petition process to directly qualify a question to be placed on the ballot. In those states, citizens have been able to bypass legislatures to enact popular measures. Many of them have been anti-union, such as allowing Walmart to build or expand stores and preserving the right to the secret ballot in union representation elections.

An organization called the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center wants to stop this trend. This is from its website:

Every year, progressives spend millions fighting right-wing ballot measures – resources that could be spent advancing progressive issues. These threats aren’t going away, so the challenge for us is not just to fight back, but to take control of the process and turn it to our advantage.

Part of BISC’s strategy is to make it next to impossible to conduct a petition drive. Each year, they publish a “Ballot Integrity Report Card”. The 2010 report found “a broken system in need of solutions”. Michigan got an F. Although we did some things right, we failed to meet several BISC standards:

  • Petition circulators are not required to register with the state.

  • Circulators are not required to witness signatures.

  • Petition sheets are not required to include an affidavit, signed by the circulator and notarized, attesting that all signatures were collected in accordance with state laws.

  • Circulation companies are not prohibited from paying signature gatherers on the sole basis of the number of signatures they collect for, at minimum, the majority of their compensation.

  • The state does not have specific penalties for violating wage and hour requirements when paying petition circulators.

In Michigan, 39 proposals have been placed on the ballot by initiative petition since adoption of the 1963 Constitution. Seventeen were approved and 22 were rejected. The process has been virtually free of controversy. Getting a proposal on the ballot is next to impossible without paid circulators, and doing it that way costs about $1 million. Adding requirements like registration of circulators, witnessing signatures and getting a notarized affidavit for each petition sheet would very likely end ballot initiatives altogether. Although Article II, Section 9 of the Michigan Constitution says “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and to enact and reject laws,” the cost of doing so would be prohibitive.

Of course, unions and their Democrat Party supporters would never acknowledge being against democracy, and they rush to defend it when when it suits their agenda. There is an effort afoot to repeal the Emergency Manager law, which Michigan's legislature strengthened this spring. It allows the Governor to appoint an emergency manager to take over a local government entity to save it from bankruptcy. I suspect there would be no objection to the law if it did not allow the EM to void union contracts. On that subject, here is an exchange of "opinions" that appeared in the Lansing State Journal in July 2011. And here is an article about Joe Harris, emergency financial manager for Benton Harbor.