Anti-democracy in action

Tea Party-backed election-change measure is all about politics

Early in their drive to change Chico City Council elections from November to June, the local Tea Party Patriots pitched it as a grassroots movement in which volunteers would be hitting the sidewalks to collect signatures on petitions calling for a special election.

The petition drive was successful, but it was hardly grassroots. A professional signature-gathering firm did the real work. The cost: $31,100.

As the CN&R has reported, the money came from Tom Dauterman, a local longtime financial backer of conservative causes. He also gave $3,100 to Larry Wahl’s supervisorial campaign. Stephanie Taber, Supervisor Wahl’s executive assistant, spearheaded the election-change drive.

The tea partiers would have us believe they simply wanted to make City Council contests more visible. In November, elections are overshadowed by state and national contests, and holding them in June would generate more attention, they argued.

Would it? More people vote in the November general election than in the June primary—25 percent more. It doesn’t make much sense to try to make an election more visible by holding it when fewer people vote.

Besides, as anybody who follows local politics knows, Chico City Council elections generate as much heat as any other contests on the November ballot, even the one for president.

Besides, why just the City Council? Why not move the school board and CARD elections to June? If any elections are overshadowed in November, those are.

The real but so far unacknowledged reason why the tea partiers want the elections in June is because they know voter turnout in June is historically low and favors conservative candidates, and in November it’s higher and trends liberal. The tea partiers would rather council members be chosen by fewer voters because they figure that way more conservatives would be elected.

They also prefer June because they want to make it harder for students to vote. Most students are gone in June; if they wanted to vote, they’d have to obtain absentee ballots.

This isn’t an isolated effort. In statehouses across the country, Republican lawmakers are raising the specter of “voter fraud” to push through legislation that would restrict the voting rights of students, Latinos, seniors, the disabled and the homeless.

In New Hampshire, for example, a bill has been introduced that would bar thousands of college students from voting in the communities where they live. New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien said the legislation is necessary because there “are kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience.”

In several states Republicans have introduced bills requiring voters to present photo identification and/or proof of citizenship at the polls. What’s next, poll taxes?

Voter fraud is a nonexistent problem. These efforts are bald-faced attempts to discourage voting by the poor and members of ethnic minorities. The Chico election-change initiative is part of a nationwide movement to favor Republican candidates by restricting voting.

In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt told union members that “there are some political candidates who think they may have a chance of election if only the total vote is small enough.” It’s still true.