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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Commentary: Low Turnout Again Leads to Talk of Change

Another election, more low turnout, and more talk about changing the way we vote. County Clerk Freddie Oakley is talking once again about all-mail-ballot elections. With all due respect to the County Clerk, I could not disagree more.

One of things we noticed as we talked to voters over the last few months, some did not realize that there was an election, however, most were more focused on the Presidential Election than local politics. In a lot of ways that is a shame because local politics impacts people's lives more directly than national politics.

Of the big issues on the national front, only really gas prices impact people as much as the conditions of roadways, housing availability, schools, etc. And the president is not going to have as much of an immediate effect on gas prices as the city council does on development and growth or the school board does on the local schools. The war effects us on the margins. The economy impacts us more but again, how much does the President impact the economy directly? Moreover given local variations, you can argue that the city council, county board of supervisors, and even your state reps have a greater impact over your personal economy than the President.

Regardless, this is not a blog about the economy or local politics, but rather the interest of the public in local politics. The valid point made is that the amount of elections this year is taxing our system. Freddie Oakley's solution is the all-mail ballot.

I would look first at electoral consolidation. But before we get there, we need to understand that something happened this year that was somewhat unique. California had two primaries by specific design. We had the February Presidential Primary and then our normal June Primary.

This was not done by accident either. You see the legislature tried to put a term limits law on the ballot to extend their own terms in their president branch of the state legislature. If that proposition had passed in February, state lawmakers could have run for reelection in June. The result however was two separate primaries that watered down the vote and drove up the expenses. Did Fabian Nunez reimburse local counties and election officials for his self-serving and transparent plan that was handily rejected by the voters? Of course not.

Unique circumstances aside, where I grew in San Luis Obispo, almost 20 years ago they passed a local measure that consolidated the ballots. It put city elections, school board elections, and county elections on the same ballot as either the primary or general elections.

The result is that they have two elections except under special circumstances and the school board and city council elections occur with the general elections. From a fiscal standpoint it makes sense. You get a larger turnout. People tend to be less focused on the local elections, but then again, how much different is that from now?

It seems to work elsewhere, perhaps we ought to look into it here before we go to an a mail-in election where the people still are not paying much attention.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting