The "F___ It" Election
#51-Why are so few people voting? With all those mail-in ballots!
Some notes on voting in California: As of yesterday, the day before Election Day in California, only 15% of registered voters had returned ballots. Low! Weren't we told mailing ballots to everyone would increase turnout? (“Vote Safely At Home, Make Your Voice Heard!”)
What happened? I think I know at least part of what happened. I've been looking at my sample ballot, having spent an hour on the phone with a conscientious neighbor trying to figure out what the hell to do with it:
1) There are too many choices: Under the state’s "jungle primary" reform, there are 23 candidates for US Senator, 26 for Governor. Nine for Insurance Commisioner. Some are Democrats, some Republicans, some Peace & Freedom, some have no party preference. They are listed … in random order. Nobody knows who 90% of these people are.
2. The traditional party heuristic doesn't work anymore: In an old-style general election, or when there is small number of candidates, you might be able to decide whom to vote for simply by looking at party ID and voting for your party. That won’t work when there are, say 10 little-known Republicans on the ballot. And party ID doesn’t tell you as much as it used to: “Republican” could be a Chamber of Commerce free-trade moderate or a steal-stopping Trumpist. Figuring out which is which is almost a full time research job. At least, unlike in the old days, we have the Web. You’re gonna need it.
3. It's confusingly presented: When you get the actual ballot itself—I think it was the last of a 4-document barrage of pre-election mailings— it first presents “National Election” lists, which means the candidates for U.S. Senator (there are actualy two senate races--long-term and short-term, because .. oh, never mind.) Don’t expect the race for Congressperson to be next. Next comes “City/Local,” including city council, then the state legislature, then back to the federal legislature (Congressperson) — followed by a city referendum, then some county offices, including Sheriff, then some county judges, then more state-level races, including governor and something called the Board of Equalization which does ... I have no idea what it does. (But I hear many of its powers have been taken away. )
It would be too easy to start at the top with the federal offices, then State offices, then county, then city.
4, New voting methods: Whoever did the layout for the multiple pieces of official literature needs a remedial course at the Otis College of Art. It took me a lot of work to figure out, amid all the inspirational talk about the joy of mail-in ballots, that I can still go to a polling place (sorry, a “Vote Center,” not necessarily nearby) and vote in person. At least I think I can.
It's all too much. Too many candidates. Too many elected offices. Too many official pamphlets barking out too many instructions like a TSA officer in the X-ray queue. Too many process reforms hitting at the same time.
There's a familiar phenomenon when people -- OK, mainly boomers with low bandwidth -- use the Web. I call it the ‘Fuck It’ phenomenon. You click on an article. You hit a paywall. It's actually a publication you subscribe to --but you are using your iPad, not your usual laptop. It wants a username and password. You guess at the name but have forgotten which password of the 237 passwords you use. You could click "Forgot Passwod" and just a few more clicks later read the article. Instead, your brain — maybe your entire body — begins to seize up and you say "Fuck It."
California voters seem to be saying "Fuck It."
P.S.: If a nice ballot ‘harvester’ stopped by, I might just say 'Here, you fill this damn thing out and mail it for me.'
You’d assume the “F___ It” phenomenon would depress turnout. But it might simultaneously boost harvesting, including the illegal kind where the harvester does all the work.
Even without any illegality, political pros may be all too happy if ballots become so formidable that voters have to turn them over to party machines, the way taxpayers now have to let H&R Block do their complicated returns. …