America's Big Problem Is Voting Apathy; Chris Game on How to Encourage People to the Pollbooths I Would Be Amazed If by the Next Presidential Elections There Was Not Some Internet Voting

The Birmingham Post (England), November 7, 2000 | Go to article overview

America's Big Problem Is Voting Apathy; Chris Game on How to Encourage People to the Pollbooths I Would Be Amazed If by the Next Presidential Elections There Was Not Some Internet Voting


Byline: Chris Game

Should Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools who resigned last week, be feeling at all unloved, he should pop across the pond (the Atlantic one, that is!) to the western American state of Oregon.

Voters there, as well as electing a President, Vice-President, congressional representatives, numerous state legislators and officials, judges and district attorneys, will be deliberating on a state constitutional amendment that might have been drafted by the ex-Ofsted chief himself.

If passed, a schoolteacher's pay and job security would in future be based not on seniority or experience, but solely on the measured increase in students' knowledge while under the teacher's instruction.

And there's more - much more. This performance-related pay measure is one of no fewer than 26 constitutional amendments and ballot initiatives that Oregonians will be deciding, many of which have unmistakably serious and far-reaching implications.

Should a 15-year-old be tried as an adult? Should there be a zoning restriction on the location of sex shops? Should there be a classroom ban on any instruction 'encouraging, promoting, or sanctioning homosexuality or bisexuality' (the equivalent of our Section 28 debate)? Should state spending be limited to 15 per cent of the total personal income of state residents, compared to its present 18 per cent?

Most of these measures have been placed on the ballot paper by the voters themselves, through petitions supported by, in the case of the teachers' pay initiative, some 134,000 validated signatures.

We - and the Government, that in principle claims to favour this form of direct democracy - would call them local referendums and there will be more than 200 of them being voted on today - or roughly four per state.

Their range, naturally enough, reflects the diversity of American political culture - legalisation of inter-racial marriages and of bingo games by charitable organisations (Alabama), property tax capping and the decriminalisation of marijuana (Alaska), phasing out state income tax and ending bilingual education (Arizona), abortion restriction and gun control (Colorado).

Nebraska and Nevada are looking to join the 34 states that since 1995 have already banned same-sex marriages. Maine, by contrast, is likely to become the final New England state expressly to prohibit public discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. …

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