Washington uses, and pretty well, voter guides - both print and on-line - to give voters the chance to review candidates and issues on the ballot before they vote, a tool especially useful now that the state has gone virtually all mail-in.
Might it be time to do something along these lines for putting initiatives on the ballot?
The thought arises with the report in Tacoma News Tribune's political blog of initiative signature-gathering issues.
In it, Richard Shrock, an opponent of the new income tax proposal, said that "said he confronted a signature gatherer at a Kmart in Everett who had folded the top of the petition over. Signers couldn't see the ballot title describing the measure as 'establishing a state income tax and reducing other taxes.' She pitched it as a measure to help education without mentioning the income tax, Schrock said."
This easily could be (and there's not independent confirmation, although it does sound credible) but one variation on a theme: Signature gatherers edging ever closer to the legal bounds to get those signatures in, sometimes under high pressure conditions that don't give the casual voter a lot of opportunity for reflection.
But that's only a relatively obvious part of the problem. As matters stand, ballot issues in Washington (and Oregon, and to an extent Idaho) reach the ballot not so much by way of public support, but by way of money - if deep pockets will support it, it can get on the ballot, whatever the real public attitude.
How about this as an alternative way to sift through the ballot options:
Gather the signatures on line. Security issues would have to be addressed, of course. But assuming they could be (and that seems realistic), why not let people add their names via a web site (ideally, one linked to the voter registration rolls), allowing them to do so only after going through a page offering the pros and cons of the ballot issue in question?
Backers and critics of the measures would still have to run their campaigns, of course; the names wouldn't just materialize. But at least when they do, there'll be no question that some degree of reflection and non-pressured decisionmaking went into it.