When just one-third of California’s 16.8 million registered voters turned out for last June’s primary election (only 24 percent of those actually eligible to vote), loud bleating ensued from so-called experts claiming that most potential voters feel the act of casting a ballot has become passe.
“Voters have given up on believing in democracy under California’s current electoral system,” moaned Mark Paul, a onetime newspaper editorial writer who now works for the non-partisan New American Foundation.
Sorry, Mark. That’s just not so. Voters don’t show up when they’re bored, and June’s primary presented more yawners than almost any statewide California election in decades. That – not a lack of faith – is why so many voters sat on their hands.
Want evidence for this contention? Check out this fact: More people voted in the Republican primary than on the Democratic side last June, even though Democrats enjoy a registration edge of about 2 million in this state.
The reason: There were contests on the GOP side for governor and the U.S. Senate, while Democrats Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer had no serious opposition. Why would independent voters – eligible in June to vote whichever party’s party ballot they liked – bother to ask for the Democratic one? Most didn’t.
So Paul and others who frequently contend California politics has become completely dysfunctional and that voters have lost most belief that their ballots matter completely misread the June vote totals.
This will almost surely be proven Nov. 2, when the turnout goes up significantly from June’s.
Far more voters – at least 50 percent more and maybe twice as many as in June – are likely to turn out or send in absentee ballots this time because they will see both meaningful choices and emotionally important ones on this ballot, something sorely lacking the last time.
By the time of the June primary, even the contest for the Republican nomination for governor was a foregone conclusion, with billionaire Meg Whitman’s money producing far more television ads than rival Steve Poizner could or would match.
There were also no emotionally appealing issues on the proposition list. Sure, some felt it was important to beat back the money of companies like Mercury Insurance and Pacific Gas & Electric by defeating their pet propositions. But the issues this fall are much more compelling.
If the stark contrasts in the contests matching Republican Whitman and Democrat Brown for governor and Democrat Boxer and Republican Carly Fiorina for the Senate aren’t enough, there’s a list of propositions that could affect far more Californians than the June measures.
If nothing else assures high voter turnout this time, Proposition 19 certainly figures to, with its attempt to legalize and tax marijuana. Polls indicate at least half of all adult Californians have smoked pot at some time. Many still do, and legal or not, marijuana is the leading cash crop in many parts of California. So if this were the only issue on the ballot, it would figure to assure a heavy turnout. No one really knows how the vote on grass will affect other contests because cannabis appears to be used by persons ranging from extreme liberals to extreme libertarians.
There’s also the small matter of climate change, the issue at stake in Proposition 23, where a slew of oil companies has spent many millions to argue that no new limits are needed on greenhouse gases, and even if they were needed, California is shooting itself in the foot by taking the lead in imposing them. The rival argument is that if climate change is real, and evidence is strong that it is, California can assure itself leadership in the fight to mitigate it – while producing tens of thousands of “green” jobs – by keeping the landmark 2006 law called AB32, which is only now about to have much impact.
There are also several arcane-seeming propositions on government finance and redistricting, but these don’t arouse much emotion among anyone but politicians fighting for self-preservation.
The bottom line is that this is a far more interesting ballot than last June’s, which will mean a far larger turnout. There is every reason to vote this fall, where many saw little reason to come out for the primary. There’s also no excuse for not voting, if you care at all about the future of this marvelous state.