Paul Jacob

Many Democrat politicians talk a good game about democracy. They bill themselves as the defenders of the little guy. They have all the soundbites on empowerment down pat.

But beyond arguing (the obvious) that every vote should count — well, especially that every vote no matter how spoiled or irreconcilable ought to be counted for them — these Democrats are downright undemocratic. Seems, what with all their support for the little guy, they'll go to almost any length to block average citizens from voting on important issues.

Meet Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. Most will recognize her name; she's the daughter of Missouri's late governor and posthumously elected U.S. Senator, Mel Carnahan. She's also the "Show Me" state's highest election official. Robin Carnahan doesn't merely administer elections. She's hell-bent on preventing them. Her short track record in public office demonstrates the dangers of partisan politicians holding offices on which mere little guys must depend for an honest democratic government.

Oh, sure, she recently came up with more than a dozen reasons for counting votes on spoiled ballots in Rolla, Missouri — her decision yielding a one-vote victory for a Democrat. But when it comes to allowing the people of Rolla or St. Louis or Kansas City to vote on issues — such as a citizen initiative signed by nearly 220,000 Missourians entitled "Protect Our Homes" — her response could be summed up in one word of Brooklynese: "Fugetaboudit!"

Carnahan and the official state government treatment of this citizen petition — a measure to stop eminent domain abuse and protect private property against a government grown rapacious — only highlights just how out of control government has become.

It is a textbook example of how America is not supposed to function.

First, less than a month before this year's set deadline for turning in signatures on citizen initiatives, the Secretary of State arbitrarily changed the deadline, moving it up two days.

Why?

As had always been done in the past, Carnahan's office originally set the deadline on May 9, because it otherwise fell on a Sunday, May 7, when the Secretary of State's office is closed. Since the following day, Monday, May 8, was a state holiday, Truman's birthday, the deadline fell back one more day to the 9th of May.

But this February, citizens submitted and began petitioning on initiatives that Carnahan and the government establishment in Jefferson City didn't much like. One was the Protect Our Homes measure, which would protect private property from abusive regulatory takings and from the now well-documented eminent domain takings. The other measure, Stop OverSpending, limited spending increases by folks like Carnahan. (What? Can't steal homes or spend tax money like drunken sailors?) So, with only weeks left before the long publicized deadline, Carnahan decided to reverse course and open on Sunday.

Just as a disservice to the public.

Jerking around the deadline was arbitrary and underhanded, but apparently legal. And also unsuccessful. Missourians in Charge, the group spearheading the effort, managed to turn in nearly 220,000 voter signatures to Secretary of State Carnahan on time, even with the shorter deadline.

So, on May 7, presented with nearly 220,000 signatures on petitions by the grassroots Missourians in Charge to stop government stealing of homes, churches and small businesses, what was Carnahan to do?

That's easy: refuse to count them.

Secretary of State Carnahan came up with two reasons for refusing to do her job. The first concerns the ballot title and fiscal impact note given by the State of Missouri to each initiative.

There is a process in Missouri whereby the Secretary of State certifies a ballot title, including a fiscal note, working with the auditor and attorney general. In the case of the Protect Our Homes measure, Carnahan's office prepared such a title and Missourians in Charge began gathering signatures on petitions.

Soon, the state's Municipal League filed suit against the title and fiscal note prepared by their friends in Ms. Carnahan's office. A judge ordered the fiscal note prepared by the state to be re-worked. Just 48 hours before the deadline for turning in signatures, Patrick Tuohey, head of Missourian in Charge, was informed by the Secretary of State of the new fiscal impact note.

At no time did anyone in the legal proceedings assert that signatures collected using the originally certified ballot title would be discounted. Only at the eleventh hour did the Secretary of State announce she would not accept petitions without the new fiscal note.

Is this how government is supposed to work? Surely even Robin Carnahan knew that it would be impossible to gather enough signatures if given only two days to gather over 200,000?

Exactly.

And what was the cataclysmic change in the fiscal note that was so critical as to require a costly lawsuit? The word "impact" was changed to "cost" and the word "unknown" to "unknowable." The importance of the ballot title and fiscal note lie elsewhere — in giving those in power the arbitrary means to thwart citizen action.

But there is a second reason Carnahan refuses to do her job. With the rush of petitions coming in, leaders of Missourians in Charge told workers at the Secretary of State's office that they were not able to number sequentially every single petition sheet out of thousands. In the past, under similar circumstances, "substantial compliance" has been the standard and any petition sheets not numbered, or accidentally mis-numbered, were corrected by the personnel at the Secretary of State's office.

Yet, this initiative would be different. After spending tax money to open the office up on Sunday, Carnahan spokeswoman Stacie Temple said, "We're not going to use taxpayer dollars to process a petition that state law clearly requires us to reject." Of course, state law requires no such thing. And administrative burdens such as numbering petitions are usually considered fulfilled under substantial compliance.

Was there substantial compliance? Court records show that 96 percent of the pages were sequentially numbered. Back when I went to school, 96 percent was an A.

What we have in Missouri is official government opposition to the rights of the people to participate as voters in the initiative process. Politicians like Robin Carnahan are Reverse Robin Hoods, mouthing off about voter rights while they steal democracy and due process from the people in order to protect the powerful.

Let's hope Missouri's courts can restore a proper balance of government under citizen control.

As activist Patrick Tuohey points out, Secretary Carnahan's actions "allow the government to act as a veto on a petition process, whose point is to get around government, to get around the legislative and executive branches."


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.