Voting for dummies

If you don’t have a clue about all those propositions and measures, don’t vote

Don’t know? Don’t vote! A truism of elections is that once voters choose the “top of ticket” races for president and senator and the like, roughly 20 percent of voters don’t continue down the ballot to vote for state measures and lesser political races. These people often are called lazy.

But I stand in praise of the drop-off voters. They are the true ballot-box grown-ups. They wouldn’t dream of accidentally voting for a cause that, if they had had time to learn the details, they in fact would hotly oppose. The real turkeys are the earnest types who complete their ballots, not knowing what in the world they voted for.

This befuddled bunch, out in force on November 2, will exercise its right to participate in … God knows what. They are urged on by noxious do-gooders who call such activity “democracy.” It’s not. It’s dumb-ocracy.

California’s 16 ballot measures, most of which are freighted with murky language and unintended consequences, only encourage the clueless guesser. How about this instead: After you’ve voted for stuff you truly know something about, resist being “part of the process.” Your misbegotten love for poking the hole could screw us all.

This problem began eating at me when I moderated an election panel discussion for the Los Angeles Press Club (where I am a board member), featuring top analysts of ballot “fine print”: Anthony York, editor of the Sacramento insider newsletter Political Pulse; Jon Coupal, of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association; Dick Rosengarten, editor of the Calpeek election newsletter; and Parke Skelton, a top Democratic consultant.

Skelton noted that although it is interesting that many voters don’t continue down the ballot after picking top candidates, it is nothing short of “incredible” that millions of Californians complete the ballot, even voting for a list of judges, none of whom voters have ever heard of.

This remarkable behavior takes me back to my ideological youth. Like so many dolts fresh out of college, I voted for judges and had no clue who any of them were.

I’ll bet my “I Voted!” sticker that my process for selecting judges during my early voting years mirrors what most voters end up doing. My own formula was to vote for every woman, every Latino and, when I ran out of those, every “interesting” name. God help us.

As I got smarter, I learned that most people running for these elective judgeships are underwritten by special-interest groups with all sorts of axes to grind. I started withholding my tiny ballot-punching spike, skipping the judges unless, on very rare occasions, I knew their record.

One interesting consequence of how Californians blindly choose judges is that judges are stunningly out of step with the voters who stick them in office. In fact, we were so upset with our judicial system that we dramatically overhauled it when we approved the “three strikes, and you’re out” law, which is now up for dramatic revision on the November 2 ballot.

Proposition 66 would significantly roll back the three-strikes law. It’s one of several well-intended, popular ballot measures that, upon closer examination, makes me exceedingly queasy. To crib a line from a well-known politician, I was going to vote for it before I decided to vote against it.

Today, 42,000 people are in prison under the three-strikes law. You can be forgiven if you believe that many are there for petty theft. The media have turned the guy caught stealing socks into an emblem of the law’s inhumanity. Only in the last couple of weeks have media outlets finally begun offering up hard data about the actual size of the petty-theft crowd whose plight has soured many of us on the law.

Out of 42,000, 357 people committed shoplifting or other very petty crimes. Yet the state Legislature refused to help these 357 souls by fixing the law. Your very own local legislators almost certainly refused to fix the three-strikes law out of fear of giving “soft on crime” ammo to opponents during their own re-election bids. So, 357 rot away in prison because of the gutless self-preservation of politicians. The result is Proposition 66, a classic awful law, written behind closed doors by citizens, that goes profoundly awry.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer strongly opposes the measure because it takes a chainsaw to a law that needs surgical repair. And he’s a liberal Democrat who knows the criminal code in detail.

Let’s say a vicious career criminal is doing life for having burned down somebody’s store or office, but an even greater disaster was averted when everybody inside got out safely. Under Proposition 66, this vicious arsonist thug didn’t kill or maim anybody (not for lack of trying). Heck, he’s not even violent! He gets released from his life sentence, probably decades early.

Same thing for sex predators who try to buy children but get caught before the child is abducted. Under the new law’s demented reasoning, the predator has not hurt anyone. He’s not violent. Get the picture?

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, a measured man, widely respected in a county that normally eats its district attorneys for breakfast, has led a movement to not prosecute the three-strikes law if the third strike involves petty crime. Today, the vast majority of California prosecutors agree with Cooley and follow suit.

Cooley is a good guy. He knows the three-strikes law unfairly put some petty thieves in jail for life.

But, as Cooley notes, Proposition 66 goes nuts. It blows a massive hole in California criminal law by forgiving violent felons, not just sock stealers.

“Get ready for an unprecedented wave of crime in California,” says Cooley.

Somehow, our human desire to help these 357 people by softening the three-strikes law has become an early-release plan for hard-core criminals.Proposition 66 supporters say the fears of district attorneys up and down the state are exaggerated and that only a few thousand serious criminals might get out. A few thousand? This is a “reform”?

One savvy pol who doesn’t buy this claim is Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Recently, I watched Brown at a televised anti-Proposition 66 press conference with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Brown looked positively ill. He believes that thousands of the Bay Area’s worst predators—not CD stealers—will be released by Proposition 66. Democrat Brown, who has fought harder than any California mayor to clean up his tough town’s mean streets, knows how unaware voters are of the law of unintended consequences contained in Proposition 66.

Brown is scared for Oakland.

Beyond Proposition 66, more than a dozen ballot measures contain language whose consequences are utterly unknown and which voters cannot possibly understand. Many measures will head straight to court if approved, but even if they don’t go to court, the fine print could bring more misery than solutions.

There’s Proposition 72, to shift the health-insurance crisis onto the backs of schools and modest businesses like restaurants and small manufacturers. Even supporters of this extensive tax on businesses admit it will prompt worker firings as businesses scramble to pay stiff new costs mandated by the new law. Expect restaurants to be hard-hit with layoffs and closures. Is this non-solution really worth the firings of thousands of people? Do we honestly support forcing our schools to raid funds from classrooms in order to cover health care for irresponsible employees who can pay for their own damned insurance but would rather use their money on fun things, like vacations?

My insurance is a killer, costing me more than my utilities, phones and Internet bills combined. But I know the people I work for are not my mommy.

Then there’s Proposition 63, the wildly popular tax on millionaires, which extensively expands and creates mental-illness programs. It’s popular because it taxes somebody else. But the massive new treatment bureaucracy that is created will be wholly reliant on funding from highly mobile and unreliable millionaires. That’s right, unreliable. Large chunks of millionaires disappear from California without warning. When thousands vanished from the tax rolls in recent years, it blew a $9 billion hole in California’s state budget and was a key factor in sending the state into a tailspin.

After another chunk of millionaires disappears, who’s going to foot the bill for this permanent new mental-illness-treatment bureaucracy? I’ll give you one guess.

And then there are the gobbledy-gook measures Proposition 65 and Proposition 1A. They were designed to stop Sacramento legislators from continually raiding city and county treasuries. Like most other measures (except for the devious Proposition 60, written by the Legislature), Propositions 65 and 1A are truly meant to help California. But not even somebody who reads Sanskrit for pleasure can decipher them. Too bad, because I would quickly vote for a measure that halts cash raids on cities by our unrepentant state legislators (why do you folks keep putting these same people back in office?).

I expect Proposition 1A to get more votes than Proposition 65, not because voters agree with it more, but because 1A is the first measure listed on the ballot. There is nothing clueless guessers like better than voting for the very first item.

As I assess the dark side of so many measures, I’m not suggesting anyone stay home on November 2. But when you get to items that you know diddly about, why not choose democracy and not dumb-ocracy? Spare us your need to feel “involved.” If you don’t know, don’t vote.