State Voters Can Give Themselves Stronger Voice

Nov. 4 will be a seminal day. We the people will be able to gain a stronger voice by voting yes on a ballot question, "Shall the state Constitution Convention be convened to revise or amend the state Constitution?" This question appears every 20 years as provided for in our state constitution.

The coalition supporting the yes vote has proposed a constitutional amendment to provide for direct initiative rights for Connecticut citizens. Today, 31 states have direct democracy laws, which include initiatives, referendums and recall. Sadly, Connecticut is one of only 19 states to not have these citizen empowerment laws.

The first state to allow popular referendums was South Dakota in 1898. The last was Mississippi in 1992. The evidence to date suggests that the Constitution State would benefit greatly from having this mechanism at our disposal.

John Matsusaka, a professor of finance and business economics at the University of Southern California, recently wrote a book called, "For the Many or the Few." Examining over a century of tax and spending data from all 50 states and 4,700 cities, he found some intriguing differences between states that allow citizen-initiated referendums and those that do not.

For example, Matsusaka found that states with the initiative mechanism had significantly lower taxes and spending. From 1960 to 1990, per capita spending was about $83 lower in an initiative state than a non-initiative state — or a $332 savings for the average family of four. He also found that 70 percent to 80 percent of voters are glad to have initiative and referendums in their state.

Another benefit of allowing citizen-sponsored referendums seems to be a greater interest in politics as a whole. Indeed, recent studies by Mark Smith, a political scientist at the University of Washington, show that when there is an initiative on the ballot during mid-term elections, voter turnout climbs.

Many of the Founding Fathers had an intuitive faith in the initiative process. George Washington was very clear when he stated, "With Initiative and Referenda there will be no need for further Constitution Conventions. People will be able to revise the Constitution when necessary. The basis of our political systems is the right of people to make and alter their Constitutions of government."

The initiative-referendum mechanism could further arm Connecticut voters by providing them with an opportunity to speak loudly and clearly on issues such as property tax caps, the repeal of the state income tax, a three-strikes law, medical marijuana and term limits, to name a few. The proponents of the campaign are Democrats, Republicans, independents, liberals, moderates and conservatives. Their goal, in addition to citizen empowerment rights, is to help facilitate what brings us together rather than constantly focusing on what tears us apart.

We believe that Connecticut voters would regret not following the wisdom of yesteryear’s founders and today’s scholars. Looking to November, we should consider listening to that wisdom and vote yes for a Constitution Convention.

Matthew M. Daly is chairman of the Constitution Convention Campaign. John J. Woodcock III, a lawyer, is an adjunct political science professor at Central Connecticut State University and a former Democratic state representative.