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Stateside: Only my second election...

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Only my second election... and already I’m a slovenly voter

It’s just after 8pm here in California and the polls have now closed for what normally would have been CA’s presidential primary election if it hadn’t been moved up to February this year. Instead, we had a Direct Primary Election, the primaries being for competing candidates for state or congressional offices within a particular party, and candidates for slots on their party’s local committees.

Being a registered “Decline to State” voter, I voted using what’s called a nonpartisan ballot, but there was still plenty to make a decision on. For what it’s worth, I’m going to share with you how I made those decisions because it’s probably typical of how the majority of voters decide and I’m quite shocked at my own lack of truly well-considered decision-making.

Some time ago, I received my Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet from the county’s Registrar of Voters, and while I did at least looked what was on the sample ballot, I confess I just skimmed the information that was included about the candidates and state and local measures. That doesn’t earn me an F, however.

The F must go to a workmate who saw my “I Voted” sticker today and said, “Oh, is there an election today?” She’d cast her sample ballot aside when it arrived in the mail, thinking it had information about the November election. “That’s all I’m interested in,” she said.

Pity. She lives in the same part of Oakland as I do and there were choices for a local superior court judge, a school board member, a county supervisor, and an at-large city council member. Only one person ran for city attorney. All those elected tonight will have a far greater impact on our lives here in OTown than any president elected in November will have.

How did I choose? Superior Court Judge: recognized a name I’d seen on signs attached to poles around the neighborhood. Also, the one-line description he’d chosen to appear under his name on the ballot said “Public Interest Attorney.” His competitors were a Criminal Law Attorney, a Deputy District Attorney, and an Administrative Law Judge. I’m all for anything that’s in the public interest, even if it is an attorney.

School Board Member: Three choices, and this time I went by the by-line alone as I hadn’t seen anything about any of them elsewhere. The choice was between an Executive Director, Attorney; School Superintendent, and Children’s Nonprofit Director, and I chose the last one, hoping that the nonprofit he’s director of isn’t yearning for Zion.

County Supervisor: Two choices—the incumbent and the challenger. I met the incumbent once at a meeting while I was working on campaigns in Berkeley and Oakland to pave the way for Alameda County to run instant run-off elections. After the meeting, he wrote a letter supporting our calls for the county’s Registrar of Voters to investigate making such elections a reality. Fat lot of good that did, but the Retired Business Owner didn’t sound like he was likely to be up my alley.

Councilmember at Large: Five candidates, all of whom sent me fancy campaign mailers, except for one who relied on email. Only one of them used voicemail. She’s the one I voted for, not because of the voicemail but because I’d met her in 2000 when she had the Green Party’s endorsement for her bid for that position that year. Yes, I voted for her despite the fact she changed her party registration this year from Green to Democrat in order to secure some faction of the Democratic Party here in the Bay Area. There will likely be a run-off election in November between her and the candidate the mainstream Dems support here in Oakland. So much for instant run-off voting—Oakland passed the measure approving it a couple of years ago, but it’s never been implemented.

City Attorney: No contest.

Now for the meaty stuff—the state propositions and local measures. Information about the two local measures takes up 16 pages in the voter information pamphlet, and a separate mailer was sent when two competing state propositions qualified to be on the ballot. That booklet has 15 pages to be read and digested and decided upon.

The city measure was to do with modernizing Oakland’s telephone utility user tax so that tax payers are treated equally regardless of technology used. Oakland’s UUT makes up a fair chunk of my cellphone bill every month, and I didn’t think folks with just home phones should have to pay the same so I voted No.

The county measure was to do with charging people living in unincorporated areas of the county (i.e. outside the boundaries of the cities that are within Alameda County) for services funded by the county, such as the sheriff, library, planning, and code enforcement. Why the hell shouldn’t those folks suffer too? I voted Yes. Part of my reasoning was that it seems from news bulletins that all the most heinous crimes are committed in one unincorporated part of Alameda County or another, and that some of the county’s richest people live in some other unincorporated part of it just so they can avoid paying taxes.

Basically, I was on my own with the city and county measures, even though I know very well where I could have gone for clear, succinct information about them: the SmartVoter website that the League of Women Voters provides every election. I could have gone there too, to find out what the LWV thought of the two state propositions, but I didn’t need to. The League mounted a vigorous television campaign yesterday and today telling voters to say No to prop 98 and Yes to prop 99.

Both propositions were to do with eminent domain—the power of the state to force people to sell their property to some organization or commercial concern that will build something for the (supposed) greater public good. In their ads, the League called 98 “the landlords’ scheme” because it also included language to also abolish rent controls. Prop 99 limits the reasons a property can be acquired under eminent domain and leaves rent controls in place.

It’s now 9 o’clock at night, and I voted 14 hours ago on my way to work, and although I know I voted No on 98, I can’t for the life of me remember how I voted on 99, though I’m pretty sure it was No, too. There’s just something about the term “eminent domain” that smacks of manorial rights in medieval times. You know, droit de seigneur and all that. Daft reasoning, or lack of it. Eminent domain exists already and voting No just preserves the status quo. Whatever that is.

So you see, my friends. Only my second U.S. election and already I’m exhausted and overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a voter. No wonder turnout in this country is so low and that the people who do vote decide not on the merits, but on the last thing they heard that stuck in their mind about the person or issue.

You and I can both track the turnout and returns here for Alameda County, and here for San Francisco City, where Shirley Golub has 12 percent of the vote with 17 percent precincts counted in her race against Nancy Pelosi.

Oh, and about the presidential primaries today... all the local networks dropped their regular programming to carry both Clinton and Obama speeches live, with the exception of PBS, which doesn’t have any local news programs. Oddly, the ABC affiliate chose not to use its own news team to cover the Obama speech, taking the national network feed instead, which stopped airing Obama once he’d moved on to attacking McCain. Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos then stepped in to opine about what Hillary’s speech meant.

The local unaffiliated news station dropped the post-Obama speech hubbub because an earthquake had struck in the North Bay not long after Obama began his speech. Interesting that they thought his speech was more important than that mainstay of news bulletins—a natural disaster of any magnitude.

The local CBS political news editor and their regular political commentator stayed on air for quite a while after Obama’s speech ended. But their most interesting observation was how Clinton forced them to use up one-third of their regular 6:30 news bulletin just to say she wasn’t saying anything.



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