But what I didn't realise before I moved here is quite how many decisions the American voter has to make when they head to the polling booth. Or at least the San Franciscan voter. Come November, they are going to have to decide on
- a Senate seat and two House seats in Washington
- the composition of the California State Executive - that's 8 different posts ranging from Governor to Insurance Commissioner
- one State Senate seat
- one State Assembly seat
- Judicial positions - yes they vote for their judges here
- their local councillor/supervisor
- their school board members
- the Director of the Bay Area Rapid Transit
- 9 separate propositions which are statewide ranging from the legalisation of marijuana to the suspension of air pollution control laws until unemployment falls to under 5.5% to adding an $18 surcharge to the vehicle license to pay for state parks
- 15 separate citywide propositions ranging from allowing non-citizens to vote for the school board if they have children at school to changing the formula for working out the MUNI worker salaries to prohibiting people from sitting and lying on pavements in the city during the daytime
I make that at least 40 decisions they have to make but I may have that wrong is it is pretty confusing. And some of those decisions have far-reaching implications - Proposition 19 on marijuana or Proposition 23 on air pollution control or Proposition 25 which wants to change the majority needed to pass the State budget (only just passed 17 weeks late) in the State legislature from two-thirds to a simple majority.
On the one hand there is something admirable about people engaging in the process. On the other hand, the turnouts at American elections are low - lower than our low turnouts back in the UK, so clearly a lot of people are put off voting. And of course they sign off on things which have knock-on effects in unintended ways. The inability of California to raise its taxes without a 2/3 majority in the legislature is having a direct impact on the state's ability to pay for its roads, schools and so on. All too often the US political system seems to end in impasse.
As an outsider, I am attempting to maintain a wry smile while watching the shenanigans - witness the Whitman maid controversy of last week - though it can be hard when I know that budget cuts in California have a direct impact on my daughters' schooling here.