Monday, January 30, 2012

A Waste of Democracy

Alejandrina Cabrera, s city council candidate in heavily-Spanish-speaking San Luis, Arizona has been removed from the ballot after a judge ruled her English ability wasn't good enough to qualify. This was in accordance with Arizona's state law establishing English as the official language.

I have to think that, particularly as applied to this case, the law has to be unconstitutional. The hook would be the Equal Protection Clause (though it is times like this when my hostility to Luther v. Borden shines brightest), but in general it is fundamentally undemocratic for the state to impose substantive barriers to keep certain types of candidates off the ballot. The whole principle of a democracy is that the people get to decide what sort of person represents them, and if the people want to elect someone whose primary language is Spanish but whose English fluency is (in the candidate's own words), about a 5 out of 10, that's their prerogative.

When you compare that to the view of the City Attorney, who said that the decision was correct because a vote for Cabrera "would have been wasted, because [voters]c could have voted for someone better prepared to be an elected official," and the fundamentally authoritarian nature of the law becomes clear. The state is preventing a candidate from running for office because -- regardless of what the voters might think -- the state thinks that other people would be a better elected official. This is, more or less, how Iran conducts its "democracy", and it remains a sham even when it makes its way to one of the fifty states.

Now, to be sure, some set of neutrally-applied procedural hurdles -- such as attaining a set number of signatures, may be okay. But notably, such laws only effect persons who by virtue of their failure have already demonstrated themselves unlikely to obtain substantial, much less majority, support. Here, by contrast, the target of the law seems to be someone who could plausibly be elected -- and the insistence on trying to force Cabrera off the ballot seems to imply that she poses a real threat to her political opponents in San Luis. Well, that's democracy -- sometimes the voters vote for someone other than you. The solution is to be more appealing to the electorate, not rig the system so your opponents can't get on the ballot.

(And we won't even get into the nauseating nature of the comments on CNN's piece. I have to remind myself that internet commenters are not a representative cross-sample of America lest I despair of this whole national project altogether).

No comments: