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Keizerite headed to observe Swiss elections

Ross Day

Of the Keizertimes

A local political activist’s name has apparently gotten around.

Ross Day, executive director of Common Sense for Oregon and a Keizertimes columnist, headed off to Switzerland at their government’s invitation this week to observe their elections on June 13.

Some heavy hitters will be on the trip with Day, including John Fund, a Wall Street Journal columnist and a senior editor for The American Spectator.

Common Sense for Oregon is a conservative-leaning nonprofit that champions the initiative and referendum system along with free-market economic principles.

Day, an attorney, has been going to court promoting the initiative system for years. And he noted Switzerland was the first “modern democracy … to actually include an initiative and referendum provision” system in its constitution. Oregon was the second state in the union to allow citizen initiatives and referendums, doing so in 1902.

And if you’ve ever opened your ballot and lamented the sheer number of measures on the ballot? Don’t get Swiss citizenship. Day’s research indicated a 2007 election there which had 23 federal measures, six local and nine at the canton level. Canton is the Swiss equivalent of a U.S. state.

He called the phenomenon “ballot fatigue.

“I’m anxious to see what allows them to avoid ballot fatigue – is it cultural, or the way they are presented?” Day said. “What is it that (allows the Swiss to) avoid ballot fatigue that seems to be a problem here in Oregon?”

Day has been working in the area of initiative and referendum law for a decade now, which he says may have brought his name to the Swiss government’s attention. Day recently filed an amicus brief in Doe v. Reed, a Washington case before the U.S. Supreme Court which could clarify whether petition signers’ names could be available under public records requests.

Day, who owns a firm which circulates petitions for ballot measures and initiatives, said he wants to see how the Swiss go about circulating petitions, getting ideas for how electronic petitions could be used and how technology advances affect voting generally. He noted Switzerland has been experimenting with electronic voting for years, even through cell phone text messaging.

He called e-petitions “for lack of a better term, the most pure form of circulating petitions. The idea is that you’re going door-to-door, neighbor-to-neighbor, getting petitions. Being able to e-mail those petitions out as opposed to having paid circulators is probably the most akin to going door-to-door.”

He’ll also watch ballot counting in Bern, spend time in Zurich and meet with petitioners themselves.

“Direct democracy means something entirely different there,” Day said. “The sense I get, at least from my studies, is that it’s a little more valued in that the culture believes, ‘We’ve got this. We’ve got to protect it, so we better use it.’”

And even though, he said, most initiatives and referenda fail in Switzerland, “Apparently the Swiss enjoy having the final say.”

The trip is hosted by the Initiatives and Referendums Institute of Europe. The six-day trip won’t allow for too much sight-seeing, he said, but plans to “enjoy just soaking up the culture.

“And my wife is unbelievably jealous.”