Monday, October 24, 2016

Vote early. Not often.

"Election time approaches, and I am curious if you have a comment on Measure 98," began the email.  It was from a person who is not really a stranger--only because he has emailed me once before, and it was in response to my op-ed in the Statesman Journal.  But a stranger as in I don't know the sender.

I was shocked.  Stunned. Somebody asking me for my thoughts on a statewide ballot measure?  My views matter to somebody?

I mean, I have enough and more feedback as evidence that my op-eds have reached people, even when they disagree with me.  So, yes, my opinion has mattered to them.  But, "your opinion is a direct influence on my decision of how to vote."  This is an entirely different ballgame altogether, on how I would vote on a measure and what my thoughts are.

It is understandable.  Our ballots have gotten to be way too long, and the ballot information book is now as fat and boring as a college textbook typically is.  It is even worse in some states like Colorado and California.  Of course, one can simply avoid voting, or casually vote a yes/no without giving the choices a great deal of thought.  But, if one wants to carefully weigh the choices, it is a lot of work, and a lot of hard work at that.  The only good thing is that here in Oregon we can vote from home.  Which is what I did Sunday evening, with the voter information book and the internet as my resources for the open-book exam.

I am not the only one worried that we might be asking way too much from us.  A political science professor at the University of Denver writes:
Look, I’m a passionate advocate for free and fair elections and for public participation in them. But this is too much. As a political scientist who specializes in American elections, I’ve just got to be toward the upper end of the informed scale, and there’s no way I’m going to cast an informed vote on all these contests.
Exactly.  If relatively informed people like him and me have a tough time doing the homework and then marking our preferences, ...

Measure 98--the one that the email referred to--is one of the few measures on the ballot here in Oregon.  These are complex policy ideas.  At least not as complex as the carbon-tax ballot measure in Washington, which I had blogged about a few days ago.

The Denver professor asks a question that is familiar to me.  "But is the ballot really the right place to hammer these things out?"  In an op-ed a few years ago, I argued that asking voters to say yes/no to complex ideas is horribly wrong.  If it were as simple as that, then we don't need a legislative body.  We have a legislature--a bicameral one at that--because such complex issues need to be discussed and argued at length by all of us, via our elected representatives.  But, hey, whoever listens to me, right?

Democracy is terribly messy.  Painful.  But, there is no better alternative.  For now, I am relieved and happy that I don't have to deal with a ballot for some time ;)


Mike Hoth said...

But what did you tell him to vote, you tease? Do you optimistically hope that Measure 98 will improve graduation rates, or pessimistically assume that Oregon won't fund anything worthwhile?

You are lucky to have received that "college textbook" to help you vote. I've nearly finished my ballot, but it would have been sent in several days ago had the postal service decided to give me a voter's pamphlet! Finding all the information on each candidate online has proven to be a grueling process, and I may have to give up on casting an informed vote on a couple of the positions. "City Council Ward 3 Position B" isn't exactly a job that gets online attention.

Anne in Salem said...

My parents are legal residents of Florida, a state with four measures on the ballot. The republicans oppose all four, the democrats three of the four. Why such agreement? Because these issues - amendments to the state constitution - do not belong on the ballot. They should be laws not amendments, but it is easier to qualify an amendment for the ballot than to pass legislation. Messy, indeed.

Ramesh said...

I am firmly of the view that ballot measures are a terribly wrong manifestation of democracy. Such experiments in "direct democracy" borders on insanity. I am comfortable with the form of democracy where we elect representatives who are then tasked with carefully considering all ramifications of an issue and then passing legislation by majority with the judicial system as a check against overreach.

Nothing in life is a simple Yes/No. The worst manifestation of this lunacy was the Brexit Vote. A straight Yes/No on such a complex matter is sheer idiocy. Its no wonder that there's no clear understanding of what form of Brexit did the voters mean. And I am willing to bet my last pound that any actual Brexit plan, with the messy compromise will also be rejected by the British electorate if it was put to them as a straight Yes/No vote.

Sriram Khé said...

Hmmmm ... one of those rarest of instances when apparently we are all in agreement. Let us see what happens with the next post ;)

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