Constitutional amendments should not be left in voters’ hands

Liza Magill, Staff Writer

For Minnesota voters, the 2012 election ballots will contain not only the long list of candidates for numerous city, county, state, and national positions, but also Constitutional amendments proposed by Congress. Over a dozen potential Constitutional amendments, including the marriage amendment, a voter ID mandate at voting places, a union amendment, and gun rights amendment may all appear on ballots in November. If they can pass these Constitutional amendments through the support of voters, the Minnesota Congress can bypass an inevitable veto of these bills by Governor Dayton.

The decision to attempt to use voting to create Constitutional amendments has a large precedent. In Minnesota alone, these tactics have been employed 211 times. Congressmen feel impelled to use such tactics when their political party is the majority––as is the current Republican-dominated Congress––and they want to solidify their beliefs into law prior to a change in leadership. But just because a method has been used before does not mean it is right.

By allowing the people to vote rather than actually having Congress debate about the issues on the 2012 ballot, Congress has politically freed themselves from being ostracized after making such decisions. Because many of these issues have become so politically charged, if Congress was to make the decision on its own, voters would disapprove of Congressmen who did not vote in favor of their viewpoint. With most politicians wanting to be re-elected, voting on such issues could have harsh consequences. But fear of acting on their beliefs is the last quality we want in a state government.

Through our representative democracy, voters elect officials to act on their behalf and in their best interest, giving them the power to make the final decisions on laws and propositions. Once we invest our power in these officials, their job is to debate and compromise in order to come to the best consensus on issues. Our Republican Congress has ignored our political system of checks and balances by putting such issues up to vote in 2012 because, instead of working with Governor Dayton, they are isolating him from the legislative process. They have substituted legislative action for voting, which undermines our political system.

If the people start to make the majority of our state government’s decisions, Congress and our other leaders will be unable to continue their work in the same way. Even more importantly, there’s no guarantee that voters will ultimately make the best decision for the state. Many voters are uneducated in the nuances of politics and would not be able to understand the legalese surrounding the Constitutional amendments in order to make a rational decision. Especially in a Presidential election year, many voters come to the polls to show their “voice” in politics, but don’t have any opinion in the matters other than the Presidential race.

At the same time, many of the voters in our state not only don’t know about the issues, they don’t care about the issues proposed in Constitutional amendments.

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, quoted in a Star Tribune article, even admits that “[voting for constitutional amendments] does place an additional responsibility on us to be cautious, to be careful, to understand what the Constitution is for, and to enter into these decisions with due consideration.” As much as we may hope to be able to take on this extra consideration, as a society we can’t be trusted to follow through. Not when the future of our state is at stake.