Opinion: How’d disgraced pol Leland Yee get 300,000 votes in the recent election?

“In this week’s largely sleepy California election, there was one startling result: more than 300,000 ballots cast for Leland Yee for secretary of state, good enough for third place, even though he dropped out after being accused of conspiracy to run guns and political corruption,” Mark Z. Barabak writes in The Times. “Yee’s tally, which is likely to grow as hundreds of thousands of uncounted ballots are processed, pushed him past a pair of good-government candidates also vying to be the state’s chief election officer — a bit of irony adding to a widely held notion, especially outside the state, that Californians are a bit nuts.”

Electorally, the turnout for Lee echoes that of the L.A. sheriff who drew 39% of the vote in 1998 despite being dead.

Barabak attributes the startling results for Lee to several factors:

  • “The size and sprawl of the state.”
  • “The lack of attention, by voters and the media alike, paid to so-called down-ballot offices like secretary of state.”
  • Coincidence: “Candidate Betty Yee was on the same ballot running for state controller, also a relatively obscure office. She received a number of endorsements, including the support of several newspapers and labor unions, and some voters may have simply confused the two.”
  • “The ephemeral nature of news — even events that are widely covered or hugely hyped — in this age of perpetual information.

“People can’t even remember who won the Super Bowl,” Richie Ross, who managed Yee’s campaign before he dropped out, told Barabak. “And people are surprised that ordinary voters — not the political insiders and smarty-pants who follow this stuff — can’t remember who was indicted three months ago?”


Barabak is careful not to blame the “supposed shallowness and stupidity of the California electorate.”

He’s nicer than I am.

This is worse than the dead sheriff. You’d have to be spectacularly out of it to have not heard of the charges faced by Leland Yee. Not to mention, crazy cynical and mad blase to have already forgotten them.

Even by the low standards of American political corruption, which has seen congressmen caught taking cash bribes from fake Arab sheiks, and dipping into campaign funds to buy stuffed animals, elk heads and fur capes, it’s not every day that an anti-gun crusader with character-actor looks is accused of offering to set up an undercover agent with arms traffickers who deal in rocket-propelled grenade launchers.


Yes, yes, we’re all busy people — I have binge-watching of “Orange is the New Black” to do — but really: This was a big national story. How could anyone forget  or ignore a state senator charged with gun-running and hanging out with alleged “tong” (Chinese mafia) gangsters with colorful monikers like Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow (official title: Dragonhead)?

Once you hear that story, you’re not going to forget it.

Which means that there are, in the state of California, at least 300,000 people who do not watch, listen to, read or hear the news. At all.

My first impulse was to say that no one that stupid or ignorant should be allowed to vote. But I’ve thought about it: With two political parties so close together on the ideological scale, and candidates whose perfidy varies merely by degrees, what difference does it make?

Follow Ted Rall on Twitter @tedrall

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