Even the most enthusiastic fan of the home team does — or should — want to win fair and square.
If the road to victory involves cheating, or taking advantage of some nitpicky loopholes, it should leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Or, at the very least, an annoying asterisk in the record books.
That’s what Gov. Gary Herbert was saying the other day when he worried that a ballot referendum that he personally opposes — the one that would make certain forms of medical cannabis legal in Utah — was not going to win or lose on its merits but get canceled by a last-minute effort of opponents to undo the petition drive.
Or by a desperate lawsuit brought by a handful of physicians, narcotics agents and activists who make a specious claim about marijuana being highly addictive (it isn’t) and against federal law (a law that isn’t being enforced).
“If you get the signatures on, let’s have the debate,” Herbert said during his monthly news conference Thursday. “Why are we afraid?”
Herbert, who also isn’t a big fan of the initiative process in general, noted that it is difficult to get a question on the ballot and perhaps too easy to torpedo an initiative when its backers have every reason to believe that they have crossed the finish line.
A successful initiative petition drive needs some 113,000 signatures from voters across the state. But, just to make sure that it isn’t too easy, that an initiative can’t be successful just by taking the easy path of getting all its signatures from the densely populated Wasatch Front, the law also requires that petitions be signed by the same percentage of registered voters in at least 26 of the 29 Utah Senate districts.
And, because the law also allows a window for those who sign an initiative petition to have second thoughts and withdraw their assent, it is possible for months of good-faith effort to be brought down by an eleventh-hour blitz, maybe in just one or two Senate districts.
The part of the law that allows people to take back their signatures is a poison pill that ought to be repealed. It makes as much sense as allowing voters to go to the county clerk’s office the day after an election and change their vote.
That might feel good, especially in elections where protest votes for third parties wind up turning the election from a candidate you can tolerate to one you cannot abide.
But there should be some finality to each step in the process.
Get enough signatures, get on the ballot. If people who signed later wish they hadn’t, they can vote against the initiative on Election Day, just like everyone else.