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Why many Californians see voting as a waste of time: It doesn't make a difference

Turnout in this year's state primary elections came in at a record low; only 1 out of 4 registered voters showed up at the polls. Given that dismal turnout, a package of bills just signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown makes sense.

"The voting-related measures will allow absentee ballots mailed on election day to be counted as long as they arrive within three days, and will permit 16-year-olds to preregister to vote. One bill prohibits disqualification of a voter on grounds that he or she signs the registration affidavit with a mark, cross or signature stamp," Patrick McGreevy and Phil Willon report in The Times.

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Ballot access is an important issue. Even more so, however, is ballot motivation -- giving voters strong incentives to vote.

The city of Los Angeles is thinking about offering cash prizes to lure voters. But 58 countries have higher turnouts than the United States -- and they don't bribe voters. What do they have in common? Some, like the Central Asian republics of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, are authoritarian states where apathy sometimes lands you a prison sentence. But most offer something sadly lacking on American ballots: a diverse choice of candidates representing a wide range of political ideologies, typically as part of a parliamentary system that includes "fringe" voices.

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It's bad enough that a country like the United States -- which touts itself as a beacon of democracy -- is limited to two viable political parties, both of which hold virtually identical positions on a host of major political issues such as militarism, war, privacy rights (or lack thereof) and free-trade agreements. In California, there's basically only one.

The state Republican Party in California is in total disarray. And the best example of how democracy has failed in the Golden State is the gubernatorial race, in which Democrat Jerry Brown leads Republican Neel Kashkari 57% to 36% -- a 2-1 margin. Unless Brown endorses bestiality or joins Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL/whatever they're calling it now, there is zero chance he'll lose.

The gaping chasm between Brown and Kashkari illustrates why many Californians see voting as a waste of time. With the outcome pretty much predetermined, the only reason to vote is to participate in a quaint Norman Rockwell-like ritual. Your vote -- not even your vote plus the votes of the friends and family members you persuade to vote with you -- will not and cannot make a difference.

In other words, Gov. Brown can lead an electoral horse to water, but he can't make it drink -- especially not in this desperate drought of democracy.

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Follow Ted Rall on Twitter @tedrall

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