Jim Driver: Laws must be written so that citizens can obey the law
Have you ever been in a situation where you broke the law because the law prevented you from doing something that should not have been against the law? For instance, are you old enough to remember when it was against the law to make a right hand turn when the stop light was red, even though there were no other cars on the road?
Fortunately that law was modified. Now you can make a right hand turn if it is safe to do so when a stop light is red.
We elect our legislators to give us laws that are not only reasonable but laws we are willing to follow. When members of our legislature ignore the will of the people, and write laws that are ambiguous or impossible for people to follow in their normal intercourse with life, most of us are forced to find some way to circumvent the law, or in many cases, just ignore the law, and that makes us scofflaws.
When people find themselves in a position where it is impossible to follow the law, they begin to go down that very slippery slope that leads to a place where no one has respect for the law.
Legislators must write laws that we are willing to follow. When they write a law that we are not willing or able to follow, we must insist that the law be revised, or rewritten in such a way that we are willing and able to follow that law.
From the inception of our representative democracy, we have prided ourselves that the United States is a nation of laws. Our Declaration of Independence focused on the idea that “We the People” were in charge of our government, and that the laws enacted reflected the will of the people.
A good example of a poorly written law was presented to us in an article regarding voting in Nevada County on the front page of The Union dated Oct. 17.
At the bottom of the article, John Orona, a staff writer for The Union wrote:
“The county will also be adding signs to help deter electioneering after fielding complaints from citizens who felt intimidated by rallies at the Eric Rood Administrative Center, where ballots can be cast, County Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters Greg Diaz said in a press release.”
What does the law say about electioneering? The California Legislative Information web page Chapter 4, Definitions number 319.5, states:
“Electioneering” means the visible or audible dissemination of information that advocates for or against any candidate or measure on the ballot within 100 feet of a polling place, a vote center, an elections official’s office, or satellite location under Section 3018. Prohibited electioneering information includes, but is not limited to, any of the following:
The listing “any of the following” consisted of items (a) through (e).
Items (a) through (d) were all reasonable because they pertained to a physical polling place where citizens gather to fill out and submit their ballot.
However, item (e) is different and appears to mandate that when citizens drop off their already completed ballots in a drop off box, they cannot be wearing anything, or driving anything, that could be deemed as the dissemination of electioneering information within 100 feet of the drop off box.
(e) “At vote by mail ballot drop boxes, loitering near or disseminating visible or audible electioneering information.”
Item (e) should be challenged for the following reason:
County officials have said that even though this law forbids anyone from driving up to a drop box with a bumper sticker on their car that supports a candidate or issue it would only be a “minor infraction” and therefore not be prosecuted.
That answer presents some very troubling questions:
Would a small sign in the back or side window of a vehicle only be a “minor infraction?” Would a large sign in the back or side window of a vehicle only be a “minor infraction?” Would small political flags on the side windows of a vehicle only be a “minor infraction?” Would large political flags on a vehicle only be a “minor infraction?” Would a vehicle covered with political signs only be a “minor infraction?”
The point is this: Who gets to decide? Good laws are written in such a way that no one has to decide whether the law should, or should not, be enforced. With regards to vehicles, the insertion of the words “any person” in front of the word “loitering” might eliminate some of the ambiguity of this law, but then you have other problems, such as, how do you deal with someone who walks up to a drop off box while wearing everyday clothing that might convey a political message?
This is an issue that needs to be addressed by our legislators so that ordinary citizens, in their normal intercourse with life, do not inadvertently break the law.
Please join me in asking our legislature to correct this poorly written law.
Jim Driver lives in Rough And Ready.
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