When Ward Connerly announced his plan to sponsor a “Super Tuesday for Equality” in 2008 — five referenda to end racial preferences in five states — his foes were quick to respond. “It is our view that what we have to do is stop these ballot initiatives before they get on the ballot,” said Shanta Driver of the exhaustively named Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.
For supporters of racial preferences, the strategy of trying to keep these initiatives off ballots makes sense. That’s because they invariably win. So far, Connerly has secured victories in three blue-leaning states: California, Washington, and, most recently, Michigan. Next year, he’s targeting Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Colorblind equal opportunity will be favored to prevail in each of these places — but only if voters have a chance to consider the ballot initiatives free from political interference and even sabotage.
On Monday in Oklahoma, local activists filed 17 boxes of signatures with the state. In doing so, they overcame a small army of “blockers” who sought to intimidate petition gatherers and harass ordinary citizens. (For a colorful example of what blockers do, check out this YouTube video, shot in Tulsa.) The accomplishment is doubly impressive given that organizers had just 90 days to collect these signatures — only Massachusetts has stricter time limits for ballot qualification, and it doesn’t require as many signatures as Oklahoma.
All told, the Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative gathered some 145,000 signatures. If the state determines that nearly 139,000 are valid — a figure that doesn’t leave much room for error — then voters will have a chance to register their opinions on racial preferences. Yet there’s cause for concern: In at least one instance, Connerly’s allies believe that they were handed a slate of forged signatures, very possibly in an underhanded attempt to thwart their efforts.
If the Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative comes up short, Connerly could consider a lawsuit to challenge some of the state’s rules. He’s certainly used to the courtroom, as his ongoing experience in Missouri shows. The state’s Democratic attorney general, Robin Carnahan, has tried to rewrite the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative’s ballot language — i.e., the text of the proposal as voters will see it on Election Day. The MCRI has proposed the following:
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to prohibit any form of discrimination as an act of the state by declaring: The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting?
That’s fairly clear, and it tracks the language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as well as the ballot language used in California, Washington, and Michigan. But Carnahan has tried to replace it with something that is both tendentious and confusing:
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to: Ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against, and improve opportunities for, women and minorities in public contracting, employment, and education; and allow preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin to meet federal program funds eligibility standards as well as preferential treatment for bona fide qualifications based on sex?
Got that? Voters are bound to have trouble as well. When they’re confused about ballot initiatives, they usually vote against them — an act of reflexive conservatism that, at least in this case, would preserve one of liberalism’s social-policy totems. This coming Monday, a Missouri judge is scheduled to hold a hearing that could begin to sort out this mess.
In Colorado, Connerly already has gone to court and won — he fended off an attempt to have the state’s Supreme Court rule that the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative violates a single-subject rule. Now there’s talk that his foes may try to introduce their own initiative, whose main purpose would be to confuse voters about which measure to support.
In the past, voters have seen through these ploys. The effort to defeat the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative was exceptional for its dishonesty, but Michiganders chose to ban preferences anyway. The people of Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma will likely do so as well — but only if they’re given a chance.