Re-vote on sales tax would be assault on democracy
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Outrageous. That’s what most people think of the Press-Citizen’s editorial urging officials to call for a re-vote when they don’t like the outcome of an election.

At the time of writing, we don’t know the final outcome of last week’s sales tax vote; there are still absentee ballots outstanding and the unofficial tally is so close that a recount could easily change the results.

But the Press-Citizen isn’t waiting to hear the final results – or accepting them as final. Last Thursday they called for a re-vote (but only in the communities that voted “No”).

Apparently the risk of being inconvenienced by another possible 500-year flood outweighs the risks of overturning the democratic process, according to the short-sighted taxmongers at this paper.

But I would wager that the overwhelming majority of citizens, no matter how they personally voted, rightfully revile such an assault on democracy.

It is showing complete contempt and disregard for the choice of the people. Changing the rules after the game. Even children understand that this is not how to play fair.

There are, of course, other ways (besides the most regressive tax that exists) to pay for officials’ pet projects. Property taxes are the traditional way to finance long-term infrastructure projects, and the way apparently preferred by voters in some (more “progressive”?) areas.

But Coralville and other Johnson County officials don’t want to raise property taxes to pay for hastily thought-out projects, because homeowners can clearly see how much their taxes have increased.

Officials like to impose taxes stealthily: small amounts withheld from each paycheck; modest “user fees”; an extra cent of sales tax per each dollar spent (“only a penny”).

So officials intend to raise funds through sales taxes, whether voters approve it or not, and so they will keep browbeating voters until they get the “right” answer. Do we need to call in Jimmy Carter to monitor this election?

This is un-American, the ideology of dictators, and should be illegal, unconstitutional. In many states, an issue can only be brought to ballot again after four or eight years. Apparently not here, because Linn County has already used this despotic process to beat uncooperative voters into submission.

The Press-Citizen editors lamely attempt to justify a re-vote because of poor voter turnout: less than 20% of registered voters made it to the polls.

This is a pathetic excuse for vote-rigging – since turnout was higher in Coralville than Iowa City. And will more people will turn out the second time? The best way to increase voter apathy (and decrease turnout) is to let voters know that their votes don’t really count.

City officials will get our money, whether we like it or not, so what’s the use of even going through the motions of “democratically” deciding?

Of course, it’s voters who are opposed to the growth of taxation who will be most discouraged by this foul tactic, which is exactly the point. The former “Yes” voters will excitedly show up again, assured of victory since they are openly aided and abetted by the referees this time around.

But officials shouldn’t grow too complacent. First, this underhanded strategy might actually backfire, turning off a number of principled voters who voted “Yes’ the first time. Their disgust at this obvious assault on the democratic principle shouldn’t be discounted.

More importantly, there are longer-term implications of officials willfully ignoring election outcomes. Already mentioned is the growth of voter apathy (which officials actually welcome, since it allows them to operate unchecked).

But more dangerous to our rulers is the growing resentment borne by a people who feel they are “taxed without representation.” It simmers slowly, muted grumbling among compatriots, occasionally revealing itself in solely symbolic gestures such as tax protests. But at some point, a line will be crossed, and the compatriots will gain the momentum of mass.

If the officials are lucky, the result will be nothing more than a philosophical shift within the system.

But disenfranchisement combined with heavy taxation have oft mixed to produce a far more dangerous brew. People with no real vote have nothing invested in our current political system, and will think nothing of trying to destroy it.

Officials who arrogantly disenfranchise the electorate today should heed this for tomorrow: Wake not the sleeping giant.