First-time voters [already] have to show ID when they vote. When you sign the poll book, you're doing so under penalty of perjury. I'd like a happy medium where maybe you don't show a photo ID but some [document] with your name on it.
One of the issues I worked hardest on was to require a paper trail for electronic ballots. When paperless voting was introduced, guess what -- there was no longer an independent audit trail. There's no way we could verify the results independent of the private companies that created the software. I do not favor online voting. The Internet is a great tool -- but not for casting ballots.
Elections are a kind of unfunded mandate: The counties have to pay for what the states and federal governments require.
Absolutely. It's one of the longest-running unfunded mandates out there. So we're stuck with this antiquated voting process because there's no money to improve it, no R&D money, no companies working to build a better voting system. One of the reasons the federal government doesn't pay its fair share is because of the states' rights issue. A lot of states [think] if the federal government paid, then the federal government could attach strings. A lot of states' rights advocates don't want to see that happen. They'd just rather say, "No thank you, we don't want the money, we'll do this our way."
If counties don't comply with the laws, the only [recourse] is to sue them. In Fresno, where they didn't have enough money to staff all their polling places, the registrar went to the Board of Supervisors and said, "We need money for more polling places," and they said, "You're not going to get it."[The registrar] said, "But the law requires us to have so many polling places per thousand [registered voters], and they said, "Too bad." For county governments, elections are one area where they can cut budgets. In other areas, like transportation and housing, they're required to provide funds to get federal or state dollars.
You write songs about the propositions to get people's attention.
I love creating proposition songs. I grew up with "Schoolhouse Rock," so I thought something similar for voters would be a great public service. This last ballot, the marijuana legalization measure was good fodder for a song!
Californians love the idea of direct democracy but get ticked off at all these elections. What is that paradox about?
Californians have a love-hate relationship with the initiative process. We love to complain about it, but don't you dare talk about taking it away. There are a growing number who want reforms. SB 334 on the governor's desk would require donors of $50,000 or more to be listed in the ballot pamphlet.
Our voter turnout is so crummy that I wrote a tongue-in-cheek column thanking people for not voting because it made my vote more influential.
I had this conversation with my dad: "Why doesn't Culver City consolidate its local elections with state and federal? You'd have a higher rate of participation." He said: "We only want people who care about Culver City to vote in Culver City elections!"
When you've got ballots [so] long and complicated, I understand why some people are worried that not everybody is wrapping their heads around [issues] as carefully as they might. At the same time, only 1 out of 3 initiatives, on average, passes. When voters are in doubt, they vote no or skip it. Voters are very savvy.
Should we fine people for not voting, as Australia does?
No. People would be compelled to vote for the wrong reasons. We need to make voting as easy as possible, and that starts with registration. We have 6.4 million eligible people in California who are not registered. That's 27% of our voting population. That places us 42nd in the nation. That's appalling.
There's no one shaming politicians into making elections more participatory. [To them] it doesn't matter how many people show up on election day, as long as your guy gets more votes. The campaigns are not interested in maximizing participation. If anything, they want fewer people voting because it costs less money to campaign to fewer people.
If you don't have a participatory election process, then people looking to make their voices heard will find other ways and they will be far more violent and disruptive than putting on an election. It's in everybody's interest to get everyone to participate, particularly those who feel disenfranchised.
It sounds like you have a lot of faith in voters.
I do. I would estimate there's about 3 [million] to 4 million people in this state who never miss an election. They read the ballot pamphlet; they do their homework. Those people are the lifeblood of our election process in California. Then you've got millions of occasional voters who come and go based on what's on the ballot and how exciting the election is.
Elections are exciting for me. It makes me sad that people call those who are really excited about elections and politics political junkies, like it's a bad drug habit. To me it's a way of life.
This interview is edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. An archive of past interviews is at latimes.com/pattasks.