Guest writer

OPINION | NICK STEHLE: A cleaner ballot

Issue 2 makes it possible

We've all had it happen--you walk into your polling site, get your ballot, and insert it into the voting machine. You've done your research. You feel prepared.

And then you start reading the ballot measures.

Some are familiar--some are not. Maybe you heard some ads promising nothing but sunshine and rainbows if only this amendment or that one is passed. But who paid for those ads, and what aren't they telling you?

It's never a great feeling.

Arkansas is one of 26 states that allow a measure to be placed directly on the ballot itself, either by the Legislature or through a signature-gathering effort. In the past decade, 22 statewide measures have faced Arkansas voters in this way, with 18 of them (82 percent) receiving enough support to become law.

Here in Arkansas and around the country, out-of-state special-interest groups have used ballot initiatives as a toehold to force through controversial provisions with carefully worded (and sometimes intentionally misleading) language.

The effect has been that with enough signatures, enough financial backing, and enough creative wording, shady groups funded by billionaires you've never heard of can achieve a policy victory for which no legislator who cares about being re-elected would ever vote.

This November, voters in Vermont and California are facing ballot measures to write late-term abortion into their state constitutions. Oregon has gun-control measures that severely restrict individual gun rights, and a proposal to define health care as a "fundamental right." New York has $3 billion in borrowing for climate change and the environment. And radical leftists in Illinois have a long history of using ballot measures to drive turnout from their supporters.

The bad ideas aren't limited to other states. Here in Arkansas, liberals and interest groups have proposed ballot measures to allow ballot harvesting and force through ranked-choice voting, among others.

Can you imagine something much worse than a misleading ballot issue slipping through with barely 50 percent of the vote in a low-turnout year that raises taxes to pay for wealthy people to buy expensive electric cars? Or a ballot issue that defunds police departments under the guise of criminal justice reform? Or a cleverly disguised constitutional amendment that ends voter-approved term limits for election officials?

Fortunately, Arkansas voters have a chance this year to make that loophole a little harder to exploit. Issue 2 on your ballot would raise the vote threshold for success on many ballot measures from above 50 percent to above 60 percent.

Raising the standard for passage doesn't remove the possibility of passing good policy through the ballot process. Here in Arkansas, winning ballot measures have received an average of 64 percent of the vote in the past 10 years, with the most popular receiving as much as 83 percent.

Issue 2 has the chance to raise the standard for important policy decisions here in Arkansas and make it a little more difficult for billionaires from out of state to open the checkbook to pass their pet policies.

Our elected officials did a smart thing by placing Issue 2 on the ballot this November. Now it's up to the voters to have the final say.

After all, our vote here in Arkansas is already high-stakes enough as it is, and our elections are too important for experimentation.

Nick Stehle, who lives in Benton, is a visiting fellow at Opportunity Solutions Project, a nonprofit nonpartisan advocacy organization that seeks to improve lives by advocating for public policies based on free enterprise, individual liberty, and limited accountable government.