06 October, 2010

Democracy American-style

It won't have escaped your notice that we have less than a month to go before the US mid-term elections. Obviously there's an enormous amount of coverage in the US but the UK is covering them too, partly I think because they can be so very entertaining. We don't have anybody quite like Sarah Palin or Christine O'Donnell in the UK and they are just the beginning.

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. 


Montana said...

The Republicans are so funny, when the economy is good you say let’s all celebrate “Cinco de Mayo, my brothers” but when the economy is down “it’s all your fault, you damn immigrant”. When most Americans (with Latin America roots) go to the polls this November we will remember that the GOP has gone on a nationwide rant in proposing and passing several anti-immigration legislation (that our US Courts continue to strike down) and have continue to blame the immigrant for the flat economy or worse. We will remember who stands with us and who stands against us, so trying to stop it now is somewhat funny, but go ahead, you will not change our minds.

Plus the more radical of the GOP are now attacking our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, in their crazy notion of wanting to take away rights that all of us take for granted in their misguided attempt to garner some much needed votes, they really are fools, and leading the GOP towards obscurity because they are no longer a party of ideas, just of empty suits. Your hate made you do it, in November; you will reap what you have sown. I wonder what Abraham Lincoln would say about todays GOP, he unlike the current GOP was a man of ideas.

Sw Andersen said...

Whitman is prototypical rich Republican politician material, all right. Besides dishonesty and hypocrisy, what, exactly, qualifies her to be governor?

Oh, business experience! As if California state government is supposed to be a profit-making operation. As if a bean counter devoted to increasing sharholder value and perpetually pumping up the bottom line is the most important thing to the citizenry. Well, maybe the citizenry of Orange County. Elsewhere, people have kids who need educating, some of them kids with special needs, and not all those parents can begin to afford upscale private care facilities and such.

Once upon a time I thought Jerry Brown was a bit too eccentric. I think he matured and I know I have. I’ve seen him speak a few times over the years and read a couple of pieces by him. I think he’s got good values and instincts and a lot to offer. I hope Californians are smart enough to choose him over Whitman. If she wants someplace to run, maybe she could buy an island somewhere and set up a Republican republic. Who knows, with any luck jugheads like Rick Perry, Mark Sanford and some others would emigrate to it.

Anonymous said...

my take on that chore.
Yes I vote. No I don't vote on all questions. Voting for someone without opponent itches me, so I might leave that position blank (not that it makes a difference anyway)

People who still go to the polls are most likely morons. Nobody, NOBODY can vote on 40 questions in less than 10mn without a cheatsheet written AT HOME over several days. How difficult would have it been to actually use the ballot, instead of writing on the cheatsheet, then make a copy mistake in your little booth at the dark end of someone's garage? Now if only we could request an ENGLISH ballot by mail, and not the span-chin-something-english ballot we get ....

By all means, VOTE .. but vote by mail and take those FOUR WEEKS to think about it (ballots came in the mail today).
Copying the Guardian's answers are one way, but maybe not the best way to vote.

(now, would you reminds me WHO is up for re-election on the school board? ;-) yes E, this is your chauffeur typing)