A GPS for New Voters

by Mary Ann Drinan

                There is, unfortunately, no GPS in existence that will help you, as a new voter, navigate your way through the California election ballot. Maybe with some thoughtful reflections, it is possible to create a meaningful, albeit nontraditional, way to scan election ballots and vote for the people you truly want to win.

California has what’s called a long ballot, meaning that state voters have a larger number of choices on the ballot, especially in presidential election years, than voters in other states. Voting experts, though, tell us that a long ballot contributes to voter fatigue because it takes more time and potential accumulated knowledge to actually make voting decisions.

However, the first prime directive in voting is that, if you only want to vote in one election contest, just do it and ignore the remainder of the ballot. Your one vote for one candidate, for instance in the presidential race, will be counted, rest assured. Cast one vote, turn your ballot in, and you are done. No voter fatigue for you. And, don’t fall for the belief that you or others just don’t have time for voting. People never have to “waste their time voting” in a dictatorship.

You may also want to vote in other election contests. “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it,” said Thomas Paine, one of America’s great revolutionary leaders.

So, what’s a new voter to do? First, understand how the California ballot is organized so that you can more quickly navigate your way through it. The coordinates are as follows: national election contests, for president and Congress, are listed first on the ballot, followed by state contests for state senate and assembly (yes, California really has it’s own executive and legislative branches). Then, last of all in the candidate lineup, are the myriad of local elections for offices like city council, school boards, and water districts, among others. Most of us are unaware of these multiple layers of government just as we are often unaware of the multiple layers of air that we breathe.

So, are we done yet? No, not even close. California offers the possibility for voters to directly create state law by approving or rejecting a host of propositions. The Progressives who bequeathed the long ballot to us in the early 1900s believed that voting for an increased number of offices and potential laws greatly empowered the people. “More voting equals more democracy” was their slogan. Californians thus inherited propositions which are listed last on the ballot and, in the fall of 2016, there may be as many as 20.

A second prime directive in voting is to avoid confusion because, as all the experts know, a confused voter will not vote or will vote “no” on a proposition.

So, election trickery abounds? Of course. Many politicos want to sow the seeds of confusion so that the election outcome will bend their way. Warning labels should accompany a good number of campaign practices. For example, if smartphones had a caller beware button, it surely would be flashing during specific political calls. If a self-identified polltaker calls asking if you would vote for the “dirty, rotten scoundrel” who somehow is listed as a legal candidate, your best bet is to hang up. This is, quite frankly, a push poll, which is no poll at all, but only meant to disparage an opponent. Taking this message seriously will only lead to confusion.

All voters also face an avalanche of direct mail during the campaign season. It’s one of the best ways that candidates can communicate outside of social media. Mailers tell about the candidate’s background and the policies he/she will support. There are, however, numerous slate mailers, essentially a marketing device that will impersonate a political party or an imaginary group of citizens encouraging you to vote for a sainted candidate or proposition. Slate mailers are paid political advertising. It may seem as if a particular political party or group is endorsing a candidate; however, check the return address on these cards so you can find out who actually sent the mailing.

What tools help new voters? The CA Secretary of State’s voters’ guide along with the SD County voter’s guide will provide details about candidate qualifications and non-partisan statements, pro and con, regarding ballot propositions.

The three words listed below a candidate’s name on the ballot can be used as an extreme short cut that reveals something about their occupation (maybe you will want to think twice before voting for someone who lists an occupation like “grandfather”). As another short cut, if a group that you support or admire sponsors a proposition, you may want to seriously investigate it and possibly vote for it.

Anything as complicated as voting is extremely important. As an earthy Abraham Lincoln noted about non-voters, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their backsides to the fire and burn their behinds, they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

Voting does have a multitude of benefits for new voters. First of all, you “get your feet wet” and become more knowledgeable about candidates and issues. More importantly, you learn more about your own particular interests and can make decisions about what’s best for you and your community. Be an active participant. Remember the old adage, “A nation of sheep will only beget a government of wolves.”

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