There is, as spelled out by the Founding Fathers more than 200 years ago, a difference between direct democracy and representative democracy. Rather than establish a direct democracy — one in which the citizenry votes on governmental decisions both enormous and miniscule — this nation’s founders had the foresight to create a representative democracy in which elected representatives vote on behalf of the people.
The purpose of bringing this up is not to spark a constitutional debate, but rather to discuss the merits of advisory measures that will appear before Clark County voters when ballots for the general election are mailed out Oct. 16. Of the six advisory measures — again, they are nonbinding — five of them deal in some fashion with mass transit. Important topics, sure, yet the measures are confusing and will settle nothing in the ongoing debate. We urge a “no” vote on Advisory Votes Nos. 1-5.
Consider Advisory Vote No. 1, billed as a “light rail advisory vote.” It reads: “Should the Clark County Board of Commissioners approve proposed Resolution 2013-07-17 which opposes any Light Rail project in Clark County unless it is first supported by a majority of the voters in a county-wide vote of the people?” A noble sentiment, yet an unrealistic one. A project that involves two states, the federal government, multiple counties and numerous transportation boards is not going to be impacted by a nonbinding vote in one of those counties. A “yes” vote on this measure will amount to so much howling at the moon.
Advisory Vote No. 2, billed as a “bus rapid transit advisory vote,” contains similar language regarding any bus rapid transit project — county commissioners would be advised to oppose “every” project unless first approved by a countywide vote. If bus rapid transit is established, will every bus shelter have to be approved by voters or commissioners will oppose it? Every pedestrian guard railing? Surely, voters have better things to do than to decide every detail of a bus rapid transit project.
And while the language involved in Nos. 1 and 2 is reason for pause, the questions raised in Nos. 3, 4, and 5, are downright absurd.
Advisory Vote No. 3 asks whether Clark County commissioners should support a proposed East County toll-free bridge over the Columbia River, and No. 5 deals with a West County toll-free bridge. These questions have been examined ad nauseam and were rejected long ago. Advisory Vote No. 4 questions whether commissioners should support a toll-free Interstate 5 Bridge replacement. The notion that such a bridge could be built without tolls is so farfetched that this question serves as a waste of time for both voters and commissioners.
On the other hand, Advisory Vote No. 6 deals with something more within the purview of county commissioners — fireworks around the Fourth of July. We support a “yes” vote on this measure, which would bring Clark County in line with the city of Vancouver’s law.
The advisory votes regarding transportation issues provide an important lesson in democracy. By attempting to dictate the course of action for sitting or future Clark County commissioners, the measures attempt to subvert the purpose of representative democracy. It is a grand idea to take the pulse of the people on issues both large and small, yet sometimes it is unrealistic. Suggesting that commissioners oppose “any” light-rail project in Clark County unless it is first approved by a countywide vote introduces language that is far too broad and far too confusing. Democracy is a wonderful creation, but these measures are asking for hyper-democracy.
And finally, did we mention they are nonbinding?