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Monday, November 3, 2014

Read the Fine Print Before Voting

Well, tomorrow is another election day in these fine United States.  Let me begin by just saying what a blessing it is to live in a country where we have the right to vote, the right to elect our own officials, the right to voice our opinions about various legislation, etc. (even if those votes are often then thrown out by an over zealous judiciary, but that's a whole other post!)

But please, before you vote, please read the fine print.  When it comes to various ballot initiatives, amendments and so on, please be aware that the wording on your ballot may or may not accurately reflect the wording of the actual legislation.  Remember that the ballot language is written by elected officials who often have a stake in how the legislation turns out.  It is often misleading, causing people to vote for something they think they are voting against.

The solution is fairly simple.  Do the research and read the actual legislation, or whatever you can get your hands on.  A simple way is to find some resource that has already collected that information for you in a nice neat package.  Like, I don't know, the folks at the Constitution Party.  

Here in Missouri, the CP folks have put together a summary of the various amendments on our ballot tomorrow.  I realize they are biased as well.  They have an agenda (though it's one I agree with!).  But in spite of that, you can look at the wording of the actual legislation and make up your own mind. 

Case in point.  Amendment 2 being voted on tomorrow here in Missouri says this on the ballot:  "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that it will be permissible to allow relevant evidence of prior criminal acts to be admissible in prosecutions for crimes of a sexual nature involving a victim under eighteen years of age?"  Now, I don't know too many folks who wouldn't support that.  Protecting our children from sexual predators is a huge responsibility, and if a person has a history of criminal behavior in this area, I think it ought to be taken into account.  However....

Reading the full legislation reveals some interesting twists.   It speaks of introducing "relevant evidence of prior criminal acts, whether charged or uncharged..."  What?  What is an "uncharged criminal act"?  If there are no charges, then it's just gossip and hearsay, right?  And while some might say, "Well if there is suspicion of child abuse then we should consider that."  But what if you were the one being gossiped about?  What if someone didn't like you, started a gossip campaign suggesting you did something awful, and even though there is no evidence to support it, the "uncharged" acts are admissible in court anyway.

Now, I understand that we're talking about this evidence being admitted during a trial where actual charges are filed.  Which means you have been officially accused in this case.  But, still, this language being added to our State Constitution opens the door for all kinds of problems down the road.  You can read more about the specific problems with this particular amendment here if you're interested.

The point is simply this.  Words have meaning.  Especially words written in legislation, that will be interpreted in courtrooms regardless of what the legislators intended.  Sure we want to punish child molestors.  So I'm sure most folks will support this amendment.  But we already have laws on the books for this kind of thing, they just need to be enforced.  Adding more, and somewhat vague, language to our Constitution can be dangerous.  Down the road, wording like this may come back to haunt us in other areas, affecting not just child molesters, but since the wording is on the books, maybe it will be applied in other areas as well.  The legal precedent will have been set.  

And this applies to more than just this one amendment, this one issue.  Folks, do your research.  Read the fine print.  Don't go into the voting booth having only heard the political ads.  Do all you can to find out the truth of each candidates record, the reality behind each amendment's wording, the real impact it will have not only now, but down the road.  We are indeed blessed to have this wonderful freedom to vote.  But we need to do it responsibly and intelligently.  Do your homework, and then get out and vote!

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