By Joe Mathews.
Maybe Donald Trump would be right in a different context. How can anyone accept the results of this November’s elections in San Francisco and San Diego?
The California ballot is so long, with various offices and 17 statewide measures, to raise serious questions about democratic legitimacy. How much credit can we give to results when people have to vote on so many different offices and complicated measures, when it’s all but impossible to be well-informed on all of them?
But San Diego and San Francisco ballots are littered with complicated local measures that those questions of legitimacy are answered, and in the negative. San Diego voters confront 14 local measures. In San Francisco, it’s even worse—25 measures, on all kinds of tricky subjects. How can we take results seriously of such elections? How can voters consider to be informed?
Yes, there are long voter guides published, but still. Most measures go without real media coverage. And so you’re not getting anything more than a first blush reading on ballot titles. There is no real deliberation in this election.
Indeed, those San Francisco and San Diego ballots look less like democratic instruments but rather anti-democratic weapons. The voters are being bludgeoned by too many choices. You might even say they are being abused. And yet the voters will be said to have spoken—but with what information and what force?
We don’t have to design our votes this way. Ballot measure elections should be separate from candidate elections. And we could spread out our votes on ballot measures so we only consider a few at a time (the Swiss do this). This is easy and not too expensive in our new era of mail elections.
But we don’t make such obvious fixes. Why? Because these massive ballot serve the wealthy and powerful who have the resources to get their favored measure noticed. And so those in power tolerate a system that creates voter confusion and despair, and defeats attempts at media coverage and other forms of accountability.
In other words, this system is rigged. So why do we keep accepting it?