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Stateside with Rosalea: "Bastards!"

Stateside with Rosalea


Such was the headline in the 'Sydney Morning Hotpot' last week, quoting actor Michael Poe's outrage at learning his fellow Australians had been disenfranchised by their election system all these years. Poe discovered this on a flight from LA when someone left a 'San Francisco Kettle' in the seat pocket in front of him and he read the Kettle's unsubstantiated assertion that Proposition A, the 'instant runoff' scheme "raises the possibility of some very undemocratic outcomes", specifically that only some voters will get their vote counted. Australian election officials will no doubt be avoiding Poe at parties, lest they be backed up against the wall and their ears set a-ringing by his ire.

"On the bright side," Poe said, "the 'Kettle' also noted that instant runoff is 'complicated' and 'complex', which should finally put to rest those scurrilous Kiwi jokes about dumb Aussies. At the very least they will now be aware that San Franciscans, by the admission of their own largest newspaper, are even dumber."

To get serious, instant runoff voting is the same as the Alternative Vote system that Australians use to elect their lower House. Its continued use proves it's not complicated and that it doesn't disenfranchise anybody. The San Francisco Chronicle's non-endorsement of it on Thursday fails to convince otherwise on either count. "This city has proved thoroughly inept at running even the most straightforward election, which is an argument against this experiment, but not the most compelling one", the paper says -
the possibility of disenfranchisement being the most compelling.

Endorsements are one of the key elements in getting candidates elected and propositions passed in US politics. Earlier in the week the smaller, freeby newspapers had listed their endorsements, and both the 'San Francisco Bay Guardian' and 'AsianWeek', for example, had suggested a 'yes' vote on Prop. A to their readers. Although I'm not sure how newspaper endorsements affect propositions, according to local political analyst Bruce Cain: "The political science wisdom on this is that newspaper endorsements do not seem to have a big effect in partisan races, but the endorsement of notable politicians and actors can serve as a valuable cue to voters."

The candidates for Insurance Commissioner have gone for the latter in their TV ads. One has Marlee Matlin signing, with an interpreter doing a voice over but staying silent for the catchphrase at the end: Actions speak louder than words. Pity the blind voters who will neither be able to read Marlee's lips nor the on-screen graphic. Another goes beyond actors to the people they portray, by having Erin Brokovich endorse him.

On a trip to Sacramento last Monday I stumbled upon an endorsementfest in full swing for Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Riordan. Huddled in front on a sculpture honouring war dead was a group of lesser luminaries - assistant DA's and the like, far outnumbered by the camerapeople and photographers - prepared to say that Riordan was strong on the death penalty. Two of them, at least - I didn't stay long enough to hear everybody - were "galled" at Governor Gray Davis' ads saying that Riordan had flip-flopped on the issue. Meanwhile, campaign functionaries took urgent calls on their cell phones and held up 'Riordan for Governor' posters, worried whether the PA was working, and assured each other that they were pulling ahead in the polls.

On the TV news next morning, none of it mattered. Rival candidate Bill Simon had that same day been flitting about in the company of America's Chucklehead, Rudi Giuliani, who'd flown in from New York for the day AND the polls showed he was pulling ahead. So all Riordan got was a shot of himself saying "I'm for the death penalty".

Every ad break on television at the moment is dominated by political ads, most of them negative. Perhaps reflective of how much those ad breaks cost to get into, the only other products advertised in many of them are automobiles. I'm still waiting to see what the third Republican candidate's ads are going to be like. Bill Jones, trailing a distant third in the polls, doesn't have the money that the other campaigners have, so his strategy seems to be to let Riordan and Simon beat each other to a bloody pulp and tire everyone's interest in the process, then come out with a blockbuster endorsement at the last minute. Who, we all wonder? Nothing less than Dick Cheney will do at this late stage, I should think.

Or maybe he's hoping to pick up a bunch of votes from the undeclared voters who can ask for whichever party's ballot they want when they go into the polls on Tuesday. Not much point asking for the Democratic one, since Gray Davis is pretty much unopposed, but maybe they'll ask for the Republican ballot and vote for Jones just to show how tiresome they find the other two. I'm oversimplifying the choices undeclared voters have but, hell, if you want complicated you couldn't get much more so than California's "slightly ajar" primary - the result of the U.S. Supreme Court's mid-2000 decision that California's open primary was unconstitutional.

In this week's 'AsianWeek', Tammy Haygood, who has been director of the San Francisco Department of Elections since August 2001, explains how the slightly ajar primary works and how her department intends to deal with it at each polling place, using colour-coded charts so voters can see how many of the 12 distinct ballot cards they should receive. She refers to the enormous costs and logistics involved in the translation and production of separate Voter Information Pamphlets and sample ballots for each political party, as well as the production of 353 distinct ballot types and more than 3.8 million ballot cards. And at the end of it she is still begging for people to volunteer to "adopt a poll" so that when people go to vote there will actually be a polling place for them to go to.

I don't know for sure but I bet her department's budget is considerably less than the amount of money going into the political campaigns of the individuals and propositions seeking voter approval on March 5th. That's the American political system for you - the protagonist is more important than the process. But then I'm cynical, right, and the battle of the negative ads just looks like 'Cops' for politicos to me.

Speaking of crime, I hear that members of an Asian gang have been charged with defrauding a start-up internet company which had just recently listed its initial public offering on the Nasdaq. No doubt the headline will read: Ying Tong Diddle IPO.

God rest your scritchy soul, Spike Milligan!
Lea Barker
Sunday, March 3, 2002

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