As shocking as this sounds, we’re just a couple of weeks away from that magic moment when you come back from your mailbox with ballots for this year’s general election in hand.
You’ve probably already heard a lot about the races at the top of the ticket: The presidential races and the races for federal and statewide offices. Chances are good that you’re close to making up your mind about those races.
But, as your gaze continues down the ballot, you’re likely to find some measures that you haven’t spent much, if any, time thinking about — the state and local ballot measures. That’s a shame because these measures are often just as important, if not more so, than the races that draw more publicity.
For a variety of reasons, Oregon and Benton County always have been a magnet for these measures. Part of it is that this kind of democratic initiative is hard-wired into the DNA of Oregon’s electorate, for better or for worse. Some of it, frankly, is citizen discontent with state government — if the Legislature hasn’t dealt with your issue, it’s relatively easy to hit the streets and get a measure on the ballot.
And, as previous elections have amply demonstrated, Oregonians are willing — maybe too willing — to amend the state constitution.
One nasty side effect: Voters are asked to make judgments on issues that frankly deserve the kind of scrutiny they would get in a legislative session, where proponents and opponents have a chance to make detailed cases and must respond to arguments from the other side.
None of that happens with a ballot measure. We’re lucky if voters even pay attention to the 30-second sound bites in screaming TV commercials.
This year in Benton County, voters will have to wade through 10 ballot measures — nine from the state and the county measure to renew its local option levy. If you live in the city, you get those 10, plus another two — one a relatively important annexation vote and the other an advisory vote on the “Move to Amend” effort that sprung up in the wake of the Citizens United ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Two of the state ballot measures are relatively minor referrals from the Legislature. Seven are citizen-sponsored initiatives of varying degrees of merit.
If nothing else, you should do a little bit of thinking about the local issues before Election Day — those are the ones that will have a real impact on your life, the “Move to Amend” measure notwithstanding.
We’ll offer our editorial opinions about the ballot measures in the weeks to come, and you’re welcome to share your thoughts as well.
In a pinch, of course, it’s worth remembering this rule of thumb on ballot measures: Vote “yes” on the referrals from the Legislature and “no” on the statewide citizens’ initiatives. As it turns out, this is exactly what voters did in their wisdom in the 2008 election.
One last note: If you’re not registered to vote, better get a move on: Deadline for registration is Oct. 16.