It’s broken record day. Technically, the desk calendar and officials call today Election Day but we all know what that means — it is the annual day of us with a small soap box and those with a candidate or measure to push try their best to rally the troops one last time to vote.
And Wednesday? It is also a repeat performance, the national day to bemoan voter apathy, wonder why turnout isn’t higher and start slicing and dicing the outcome 16 different ways in hopes of one day not being outshone by Third World counties where people have no accessible water and wouldn’t know a campaign flier if it hit them in the face but still manage to cast a ballot.
It’s the lack of a presidential race, most will say. And it’s true; nothing gets the masses riled up about civic engagement the way a presidential fight does. Add a potentially historic campaign and see the figures soar even higher. Remember the spike not only in registration but participation by those both trying to get now-President Barack Obama in office and those fighting tooth and nail to get him out? If only the health care plan had such numbers.
But the truth is while a national presidential choice is important and a lot more sexy than say, a local school bond or citywide tax measure, the latter will almost always have a much more immediate impact on one’s day-to-day happenings. Obama wrestling with what to do about Syria? Significant, no doubt. Nobody is really looking forward to World War III. Sales tax jumping on nearly every single item one purchases in a day? Goes without saying, consumers will see that zero bank balance or lesser amount of change handed back a lot more immediately.
They say death and taxes are the only certainties in life. Since you can’t avoid one, why wouldn’t you want to have a say in potentially having another?
Another explanation come Wednesday is that the measures are confusing and voters can’t keep them straight. Again, true to some extent. Measure P? Which one is that? Is there a Measure A this year? There’s always a Measure A, as though the elections naming folks can’t be bothered to explore the 25 other letters of the alphabet. But here’s the thing — the important factor isn’t what the measure is called but what it does. Look at the voter pamphlet, read the text as a refresher and choose how you want to live the rest of your life (or at least until another measure reverses the course).
Take for example the county charter change measure that voters passed last November. Many would probably be hard-pressed to recall the measure letter or if the two opposing camps even had a fun name for their efforts. Brows might furrow and eyes might glaze just at the term “county charter change.” Sounds kind of like the Board of Supervisors has switched which boat it’s hiring for an event.
But that change is the one that, also backed by the settling of a voting rights lawsuit, means that going forward county supervisors can only be elected by constituents in their own individual districts rather than by a countywide electorate. It is a huge sea change, one that has been sought by some for years, and could potentially diversify the candidate pool and narrow supervisorial focus to a smaller jurisdiction. The vote also meant district lines were moved; residents might have a completely new representative now thanks to those who turned out in November and the supervisors — also chosen by the people — who recently picked the redrawn maps.
Carp all you want about the electoral college system but realize that voting processes closer to home carry a lot more weight. Besides, unlike the presidential race in which the outcome seems set and broadcast by the East before the western polls even close, county and city races provide a much greater and level element of surprise because they open and shut at the same time.
For a chunk of the county’s population, this impassioned plea is unnecessary. They’ve already decided to play civic possum and not even register to vote. They couldn’t opt in tomorrow even if they had an overnight epiphany and high tail it to the nearest polling place. But 359,535 others better perk up their ears. That number is how many San Mateo County residents are registered to vote Nov. 5, according to the Elections Office. They’ve done the first step; now it’s time to hit the finish line.
Not every person will be voting in every race; the breakdowns for individual cities and school districts are much smaller. That means every vote counts that much more and every voter needs to participate in this latest day of reckoning. Candidates and measure backers have had their turn in the spotlight for the last few months. Today, voters needs to step up and ensure that come Wednesday the pundits can sing a new song.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.