By Doug McIntyre, Los Angeles Daily News
Too busy to vote?
Yeah, I’m talking to you! The guy reading this newspaper. The same guy who’s going to spend 11 hours every Sunday watching football. You! The lady downloading cat videos and clicking the Like button on a tuna casserole recipe your cousin has already posted 15 times.
Is the reason you haven’t voted since Tom Bradley was pounding a beat because you’re so darned busy driving the kids to soccer practice and waiting for your barista to whip up your sixth Frappaccino of the day you can’t make it to your polling place by 8 p.m.? Well, good news! California Sens. Ben Allen and Bob Hertzberg think the answer is yes.
It didn’t take Julian Assange to uncover the dirty secret of Golden State politics: that in ever-increasing numbers Californians have more important things to do on Election Day than perform our most basic civic duty. In 2014, only 31 percent of registered voters bothered to cast a ballot, a record low, dropping California to 43rd out of 50 states in voter participation.
Los Angeles municipal elections are even more pathetic. In 2015, barely 10 percent of us showed up, this despite absentee ballots, motor voter registration and an endless parade of celebrities Rocking the Vote.
The easier we make it to vote, the fewer ballots we cast. So, naturally, we’re about to make it easier still.
Senate Bill 450, the “Election Modernization Bill” co-authored by Allen and Hertzberg, is likely to make it all the way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Say goodbye to queuing up in your neighbor’s garage or snagging that chocolate chip cookie from the sweet ladies behind the folding tables in your old grade school gym. SB 450 would allow counties to send “every registered voter a ballot, establish vote centers open a minimum of 10 days before Election Day, and provide voters with ballot drop-off locations.”
2014’s dismal turnout continues a trend that began in 1990, when only 41 percent bothered to vote. The picture gets even uglier when you break it out demographically; only 17.3 percent of eligible Latinos and 18.4 percent of eligible Asian-Pacific Islanders cast a ballot. Allen and Hertzberg’s bill hopes to correct this by mailing ballots 28 days before Election Day to every registered voter and replacing our traditional polling places with “vote centers” throughout the county that anybody can use to drop off their ballots. By opening the centers 10-days prior to Election Day, “Election Day” would now become “Election Week-and-a-Half.”
Sen. Allen cites results from similar reforms in Colorado that saw voter turnout jump to 55 percent, so maybe it would work here, right?
SB 450 addresses the symptoms, not the disease. The sad reality is our political institutions and education system combined to alienate the electorate. By failing to teach civics to our kids, we’ve raised two generations nearly ignorant of how our system works. Or how it’s supposed to work.
American democracy requires an “informed electorate,” but we’ve utterly failed to teach our kids how democracy works. They know everything about dinosaurs and dolphins and next to nothing about the three branches of government, checks and balances and how a bill becomes a law.
The collapse of the Republican Party in California also contributed to the lack of interest in elections. California is essentially a one-party rule state. Does it really matter to a Republican if Barbara Boxer is replaced by Kamala Harris or Loretta Sanchez?
Does it even matter to Democrats?
Our current experiment with “nonpartisan” elections pits the two top primary winners against each other even if they’re from the same party, ensuring almost no exchange of ideas.
Oftentimes, two candidates who generally agree with each other offer the voters a choice of personality rather than policy. Rather than giving voters different visions to compare and contrast we give them 50 Shades of Gray Davis.
We can keep signing up “voters” at street fairs and raves, keep the polls open 24 hours a day or have the county registrar drive to your house and personally pick up your ballot, but no law from Sacramento is going to make people care. That’s learned in our schools and in our homes. Sadly, many millions have concluded that while elections come and go, our problems remain.
The politicians think it’s us. We think it’s them.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays 5-10. He can be reached at: Doug@DougMcIntyre.com.