Voices In My Head
Is there Power in the Long Beach Vote?
Simple Question: What is the Power of the Long Beach Vote? If we’re always encouraging people to register and vote, it must be for a powerful reason. I always assumed it was because there was some power locked up in both the action of voting and in the vote itself. Otherwise, why are we doing it?
Palaciomagazine.com was reviewing the data generated by a recent survey about voting in Long Beach. This is part one of the project, Long Beach Vote 2016, being done now in partnership with Political Science Professor Som Chounlamountry and some his students.
In the survey, we asked a simple question, if you do not vote, why not? The breakdown of answers on the Long Beach Vote was fascinating:
- I do not know enough about the candidates and/or the issues 41.5%
- I do not know when the elections occur 16.9%
- I don’t think my vote counts 12.3%
- I am too busy to vote 9.2%
- I do not like the candidates 7.7%
The top two answers spotlighted lack of information about candidates, the issues and the date of the election. In a supposed media saturated society, those answers tripped me up. Internet anyone?
I must mention that, under the “Other Reasons” category, there were respondents who claimed, “Rigged elections” and “I don’t want jury duty” as reasons for why they don’t vote.
If you follow the media’s coverage of the national Presidential race, you would think everyone is voting in the Primaries and that this will be the year of the voter. Well, it’s not so far. The United States Election Project has sobering news about the turnout to date. A quick scan of the data shows that New Hampshire on February 9th registered the highest turnout so far, 52.4%. That was for both the Democratic and Republican Primary. Many of the others to date are showing turnout rates of 30s, 20s, and even teens and single digits. So a large group of people out there in the great America that don’t think there’s any power in their vote.
The same belief must exist in Long Beach. There seems to be no power in the Long Beach Vote. I mean take a look at the latest updated and unofficial voting tallies from the April 12 Long Beach Primary Election. It isn’t pretty. According to the Long Beach City Clerk, only 22,705 of 168,379 registered voters cast a ballot. That’s a 13.48% voter turnout. And that’s the citywide number.
It gets a little better or worse when you look at the individual races:
In 2014, the citywide average was much better, 17.0%. But that race included the Mayor, City Attorney, City Auditor, City Prosecutor and Measure A, and a General Tax on Medical Marijuana Sales.
As dismal as the citywide average looks today, it is actually better than the last time these seats were up for election in 2012. It was 12.48% back then.
The lack of past and present voter participation stumps but doesn’t surprise people who follow these things. In a Pew Research Center article last year, they posted a graphic that showed the United States near the bottom of the list for percentage of voting age population who actually voted.
U.S. turnout rates have been fairly consistent over the past several decades, despite some election-to-election variation. Since 1980, voting-age turnout has varied within a 9-percentage-point range – from 48% in 1996, when Bill Clinton was re-elected, to 57% in 2008, when Barack Obama won the White House. (Turnout, of course, varies considerably among different racial, ethnic and age groups.)
We’ve all heard the reasons for the low Long Beach Vote but two keep popping up in conversations: “It’s too hard” and “I can’t take time off to Vote”. To me, the two seem related. Some of the reasons have to do with information and process. That’s something that Political Science Professor Som Chounlamountry speaks about in a recent interview with PalacioMagazine.com. Chounlamountry is an Instructor at California State University, Long Beach and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Los Angeles Community College District.
Chounlamountry challenged one of the common responses to the voting process being hard. Long Beach City Clerk Maria De La Luz Garcia told PalacioMagazine.com, in a recent interview, that people could always use Vote By Mail. He jokingly said, “ Sure, but ask them when was the last time they sent something by mail?”
The Daily Dot, in an online article last year, spoke about another reason for not voting: voters can’t afford it.
A Caltech/MIT survey on voting patterns discovered that three of the five most common reasons given by eligible adults who did not vote had an economic component to them: they were too busy, they struggled with transportation, or they faced registration problems. One telling statistic is that 40 percent of voters reported waiting in line to vote—with 17 percent being forced to wait for more than half an hour. That’s prohibitively expensive in a country where time is literally money.
The article goes on to get behind the idea of a National Holiday for voting. In our survey, 70.2% of the respondents endorsed the idea of a National Holiday for voting.
Making the process and information easier and convenient are themes that constantly come up in interviews, surveys and articles. For young people, they say there should be an app for that. Many others wonder if we can do business online like shopping and banking, why not voting.
Surveys show, according to Chounlamountry, that many people don’t vote because they feel it’s something that doesn’t fit into their life. “It’s almost an anachronism when it comes to texting, instant email, Snapchat, Instagram, things are that easily accessible to them.”
Well, the response back is always about hacking and privacy and that our elections are too sacred to be left to the possibility of fraud. Yeah, right. Study after study confirms that this is a myth. See the Brennan Center for Justice study.
In a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed column dated April 20, “Are voter ID laws the next hanging chads?” by Andrew Gumbel (“Down for the Count: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America) talks about the efforts nationwide to depress voting:
To date, 34 states, all with Republican-controlled legislatures, have passed some kind of voter ID law. Sixteen of them require voters to present photo ID, and eight states get specific about the kinds of photo ID. In Texas, another state where VoteRiders is active, a concealed-carry weapon license passes muster but a student ID from a state school does not.
But back to the Long Beach Vote. Other suggestions from the PalacioMagazine.com and CSULB Political Science survey were:
- Online voting. In depth journalist articles on the candidates track records and the issues instead of just candidate PR
- Move Election Day to Saturday.
- Making it mandatory
These are all good suggestions. But PalacioMagazine.com believes it also boils down to the issue of empowerment. To encourage the Long Beach Vote, there needs an aggressive strategy to engage more voters before and after they cast a ballot. We need to make radical changes as to how and where we vote as well as who votes. We must develop and implement methods to make voting as easy as paying for your Starbuck’s coffee with your phone.
But it’s not just about process in growing the Long Beach Vote. We must also bridge the disconnect between citizens and issues, voting and its impact on people’s lives, and information and decision-making. Citizens want to feel like they have control over their lives. Government and their jobs constantly remind them that they don’t.
In a more complex world, there must be real changes in how we are informed to vote, the way we vote and the impact of that vote. Those changes will go a long way to guaranteeing that our Long Beach Vote will make us all a little more powerful.