Monday, October 31, 2005

Transparent TTR Tactics

Tennessee Tax Revolt is revving up a campaign that bears an implicit message that they believe that representative democracy and a republican form of governance does not work. They are angling now to get enough voters to sign a petition "to amend the Metro Nashville Charter so that ALL property tax rate increases must be approved by the voters in a referendum." They have couched this campaign in screaming terms like "Let the PEOPLE Vote," as if the people don't vote their desires on revenues when they elect certain mayors and specific council members.

Politics is no longer merely the brokering of deals between professional politicians in smoke-filled rooms. It is a contentious fight between well-funded special interest groups like TTR. The winners are those who do not necessarily represent the common good of all of Davidson County residents, but those who are able to amass enough signatures on petitions in support of lightning rod issues so to mobilize a critical mass (rather than a representative mass) of people to the polls on election days in fine electoral-majoritarian style (that is, not just a majority of all voters, but a majority of the minority of voters who turn out to vote).

But from where I sit, there are some very real weaknesses to the TTR petition drive that opposing savvy interest groups might want to exploit. First, TTR is encouraging the wide distribution of the petition over their e-mail network without much oversight on how signatures are being collected. They are even encouraging recipients to hit up local businesses to have petitions posted on clipboards on check-out lines. This would seem to open them up to legal challenge and demands to check the legitimacy and validity of every single signature they get.

Second, in its most recent e-mail correspondence, TTR has made a significant change in the deadline for collecting these petitions. The initial group of petitions they made available to their network was dated for the August 3, 2006 elections. Today they contacted members of their network saying that they are changing the date on the petition to November 7, 2006. According to TTR correspondence:
Why are we making the change? In talking with the election commission about all the details of the petition this week, we found that if we submitted the petitions after the August 3, 2006 election far fewer signatures would be required. You are required to submit 10% of the signatures in the last "general county election." The Aug.3 2006 election will have a much lower turnout than the previous county general election in November 2004 and thus we will have to submit far fewer signatures. The only change is that the proposed charter amendment will appear on the November 7, 2006 ballot instead of the August 3, 2006 ballot.
So, the political strategists at TTR are astutely playing the odds of general voter apathy (rather than playing up the democratic ideal of encouraging all voters to vote or arguing that we need to stop wasting taxes on poorly attended elections) and lowering their risk of losing. But this strategy is not without its problems that opposing strategists might exploit. According to TTR, the response to the first petition available is "stupendous." I don't know what kind of numbers that translates to, but let's say that it is in the hundreds or the thousands; if those signers of the original petition signed for an August 3, 2006 ballot, it could be argued that they were not signing for a November 7, 2006 ballot, and their signatures might be open to challenge and disqualification.

The TTR strategists cryptically answer:
DON'T WORRY ABOUT re-signing those who have already signed the old petition form, we will take care of that. Just send us all the signatures you have on the old petition form (The one with the August 3, 2006 date) and then start using the new form.
The logical counter is, "How are they going to take care of that?" Hopefully, someone is watching them to see exactly how they take care of that. If their methods are unethical, then that leaves them open to legal challenge.

But even if TTR is able to validate all of the older signatures, opponent groups still have recourse. Beat them at their own game. Mobilize voters in large numbers for the August 3, 2006 election to force TTR to get as many signatures as they would have had to get on the old petition. And then mobilize voters to the November 7, 2006 polls, too. It may mean the difference between a representative Metro Nashville government and one merely subject to the cynical whim of TTR strategists.