Free Minds & Free Markets

California's Animal Rights Initiative Is an Abuse of the Ballot Box: New at Reason

Voters shouldn't be asked to make decisions about how much space a chicken needs in its cage.

Ingram Publishing/NewscomIngram Publishing/NewscomCritics of California's voter-initiative process often rail against "ballot-box budgeting," which refers to the way these measures often impose major budget outlays by democratic fiat. Average voters probably can't even name all of their representatives, let alone explain how the state's finances work. Yet they are called upon to make complex fiscal decisions based usually on campaign mailers and ballot titles.

A good rule of thumb: If you read the ballot summary, pore over pages of explanation from the admirably fair-minded Legislative Analyst's Office, peruse the official pro and con arguments in the voter booklet and still have no clue what the darn thing would do, then that measure has no business on the ballot. The best thing is to vote "no" on such measures, which are a misuse of the initiative process.

Perhaps the best—but not only—example of this foolishness on the Nov. 6 ballot is Proposition 12, which "establishes new standards for confinement of specified farm animals" and "bans sale of noncomplying products." It sounds simple, in that it proposes minimum space requirements for farmers who raise veal calves, breeding pits and egg-laying hens. But delve into the details, and this one is anything but clear cut.

One finds animal-welfare advocates on both sides of the issue, thus making it nearly impossible to determine whether this potentially costly spate of regulations would even improve the lot of some of the state's farm animals. Measures such as this should be resolved in the Legislature and not at the ballot box, writes Steven Greenhut.

Photo Credit: Ingram Publishing/Newscom


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