JUST SAYIN’-This week of primary elections has caused me to think and rethink about how the electorate is swayed to vote one way or the other.
Although each region across the country displays a certain uniqueness, California continues to exhibit a style of its own. Generally, left-leaning statewide, we have been known over the years occasionally to vote against our own best interests.
The trick (or trickery, if you will) to getting people to vote your way often has to do with wording. Back in the ‘60s, the Rumford Fair Housing Act was on the books but Proposition 14 (1963) was written to confuse: Vote for the Proposition, you were essentially against fair housing and your vote would overturn Rumford. Vote against it, you supported housing fairness. The Yeses won though most such voters meant No, so the case wound up going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (under more progressive justices) and its decision deemed the original California Prop. 14 vote as unconstitutional. Sadly, we still find cases of redlining but at least there are laws to remediate the grievances of those facing housing discrimination.
Of course, money is an ongoing bone of contention. We Californians seem to see through the money-dumping (at least when it is obvious). Many of the wealthiest contenders think they can “buy” their elections. Arianna Huffington’s former husband, Michael, spent $28 million dollars (a lot back then) which did not help him make headway in his race for the U.S. Senate. Neither could plutocrats, Carly Fiorina in her race for Senate or Meg Whitman in hers for governor.
On the other hand, the Mormon Church quite successfully was able to fund the support for Proposition 8 (2008-photo) … constitutionally banning same-sex marriage in California. This voter decision, however, was also overturned by the High Court.
Unfortunately, this same Court did support the 2008 Citizens United case that categorized corporations as people and that further decided on McCutcheon (2014), basically allowing “individuals” to contribute essentially to unlimited campaigns across the nation. Incidentally, consideration for a Constitutional amendment, whose consequences would reverse those two decisions, is now being introduced in Washington. It may take more than one attempt, but I am hopeful. As Nina Simone once sang, “Everything must change/Nothing stays the same.”
What about all the campaign slate mailers with which we are overwhelmed during each campaign season and the ad infinitum television and radio commercials? Methinks that once we reach overload, we are all ready to regurgitate and pray for the end to those too-frequent intrusions into the “privacy” of our homes. Yet, such advertisements are generally successful in informing the decisions that we make electorally.
As a teacher, I always taught my students (and my own children) to read the fine print. Thus, those ads confirm the imperative to parse what we read! We have to ask ourselves, Who is funding these ads and what advantage are they expecting to gain if their side wins? Regrettably, because of recent litigation, it often remains difficult to determine who or what exactly is providing major backing.
Then there are also mailers that seem to be legitimately representing official endorsements from one party or another. Read the small print and learn that the candidates themselves and backers or opponents of certain measures have paid to be included on those flyers. We cannot allow ourselves to be fooled by such misleading advertising. It is our duty to educate ourselves before voting.
On top of everything, we get a barrage of mailers at the last minute. The rationale is to inundate so that the voter will disregard all the slicks. That way, if there is a last-minute charge or innuendo, no one will pick up on it and thus, in the end, vote the way they had planned to.
And, of course, there are those (particularly young people) who have become so jaded, so disillusioned with the process, that they don’t vote at all.
When I turned twenty-one (yes, years ago that was the age requirement), I couldn’t wait to vote in my first primary in June (and have not missed the opportunity to vote since). Older people today are the most consistent voters—we have not been soured overall on the process—though often we are greatly disappointed with results.
Young, potential voters often don’t even register (some, as a way to avoid jury duty). Even the many who can vote, often do not. From television, note pads, cell phones, etc., they are witness to the many accusations of scandalous behaviors—corruption; quid pro quo votes on issues in exchange for deep-money contributions for re-election (candidates are always running, always in campaign mode—particularly those holding two-year terms such as our Congressmembers and our State Assemblypersons). Twenty- and thirty-somethings see promises made and immediately broken after the vote is in. They refuse to repeat what led to their initial gullibility (think of W’s fool me once, shame on you? me? oh heck!).
I still strongly believe in the power of the franchise. I even kinda like the idea of the purple finger—an act of pride and honor for having voted—let the entire world see (and, why haven’t you voted yet?)
It is shameful that there is such a small turn-out (40%) during off-season elections (when there is no race for President). In many ways, these races have more immediate importance to us because most voting decisions during those election cycles affect us directly. Even every four years, our voter turn-out is painfully small—60% if we are lucky. What does this mean for the rest of us? For one thing, it is only those who actually vote (to whom we relinquish our power) who will decide the future for the rest of us—whether we like it or not!
I understand the voters’ chagrin over ever-increasing attacks and counter-attacks; of lies and distortions; of mud-slinging and deceitfulness; of downright heartlessness, spitefulness, and callousness; of in-your-face nastiness displaying biases and sometimes even racist thought.
Conversely, those political aspirants who want to engage in honest, straight-forward races face challenges that often seem insurmountable—and for many, those obstacles cannot be overcome. It seems that the electorate often prefers to believe in the lowest common denominator of candidates than to seek out the truth about them and ferret out the lies. Lies repeated over and over eventually become “truth”—and so go the voters.
What about when Senator McCain ran for President against George W. Bush who, fearing a consequential primary loss, asserted through his surrogates that McCain had parented a Black child out of wedlock? Not true, but that didn’t matter. He lost the South Carolina Primary (and ultimately the race for the Republican Presidential nomination) because people chose to believe the worst (in fact, he and his wife had adopted an orphaned child from Bangladesh—he had not been unfaithful, at least then).
The power of ugly words by the campaigner—the lack of concerted discernment by the electorate! And the beat goes on . . .
People are further confused by modifications in the process itself. Personally, I don’t like California’s recently adopted (2010) top-two open primary system. I believe it should be legally jettisoned in a future Statewide vote. Our government, at various levels, has long been based on the two-party system. Top-two results will occasionally mean that leaders in the same party will be forced to campaign against each other (consider the sad results of the recent Berman-Sherman Congressional race when we lost one good leader instead of being able to keep two). I believe that voters did not conceptualize ahead of time the unintended consequences of their approval of (a different) Proposition 14.
We need to decide, before it is too late, whether we want to do away with the two-party system altogether--a process which presently allows competing ideas to be fleshed out (but, hopefully, not endlessly obstructed); otherwise, we may be inviting ever greater dysfunction in our legislative bodies and other branches of government.
Then there are those who shout in our ears, “Take our country back!” From what? I ask. If they are so fired up on that issue, why do so few take advantage of the franchise and vote for the change and policies for which they supposedly advocate? Overturn Obamacare, but keep my MediCare. Make government smaller, but where are the police when I need them? Do these groups and individuals really know the facts and understand the issues for which they are so graphic, vocal, and riled up? Or have they also unwittingly been duped by words that seem so timely and supportive of their frustrations?
Despite all these troubling points, none of this should for a moment deter us from casting our votes. Yes, Virginia, every vote does count! Didn’t President Kennedy win by a narrow 100,000 votes? Didn’t Al Franken win over the incumbent by a mere handful of ballots? There are endless examples of even closer races.
So think of last Tuesday … 13.19% voter turnout. Did you get involved in any way to support an issue or a candidate? Did you knock on doors, make phones calls, hand out literature? Did you attend meetings to hear first-hand from the candidates and get your questions answered? Did you read up on the issues? Not enough time? Did you make even a tiny donation to help defray costs for those all-too-costly campaigns?
At the very least but, in a way, most importantly, did you exercise your own franchise? Did you vote? At a time in America when there are those who once again want to strip people of that precious right, the least we can do is to make good on our protected and guaranteed entitlement. We must stand up and, literally, be counted!
(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts. She also writes for CityWatch.)
Vol 12 Issue 46
Pub: June 6, 2014