Voters still turn away

Nearly 29,000 San Benito County adults were registered to vote in the June 5 primary. In neighboring Santa Clara County, the number of registered voters was a record, approaching 850,000. The “turnout”—the percentage of registered voters that actually cast ballots—was considered above average for a “primary in a non-presidential election year.” Regardless of the counties’ size, the turnout was about the same in both: 42 percent.

Familiar patterns repeated themselves. More votes were cast for races—such as governor—at the top of the long ballot, than at the end. “Voter fatigue,” they call it. Candidates in uncontested races understandably received fewer votes than those in contested races. The numbers of voters increased slightly for certain hot-button propositions and local measures—and special items such as the recall of a Santa Clara County judge.

There are some new trends in California, largely the result of legislative and administrative actions. While some states have been—and still are—working hard to discourage challenges to incumbents by gerrymandering, making it harder to register to vote or even stay registered and making it harder to vote by limiting hours, eliminating polling places and limiting mail ballots, California has steadily moved in opposite directions.

The nearly automatic voter registrations tied to car registrations, the aggressive marketing of mail-in ballots and elimination of postage on mail ballots in many counties, as well as moves in some counties to allow votes at any local polling places have increased the number of registered voters and actual voters across the board.

There are some striking new trends that accelerated in this month’s primary elections:
More registered voters, more voters and most votes ever cast before Election Day: both statewide and locally, while 10 percent of voters voted by mail 20 years ago, and 40 percent 10 years ago, nearly 85 percent voted before Election Day this month.
All these efforts to increase participation in democracy’s most fundamental act did little to increase the “turnout’ percentages, or to increase the number of uncontested races at the local level.

The “turn away” numbers in the primary still outnumbered the “turn out” numbers. If historical patterns prevail, those percentages will reverse for the general election, with a likely 60 percent turnout for governor. In recent “presidential” years, that increased to 80 percent and higher.

Take another look at the numbers, and it gets disheartening—fast. Look at the “half-glass empty,” instead of “half-glass full”: 17,000 citizens of San Benito County and a half-million in Santa Clara County turned away from voting, letting others decide who their candidates might be.

In San Benito, these turnaways let others actually decide final outcomes in the election of a new sheriff, since incumbent Darren Thompson received 72 percent of the vote.
When you consider that November winners, even if they get 55 percent of the vote, will win with an actual approval of just one-third of registered voters, you realize our political system at the most critical local level is in need of repair and rejuvenation.
Let’s focus these next four months on some electoral rejuvenation, on the turn-away numbers instead of the turnout. Votes count, especially to the people who count votes.

1 COMMENT

  1. PUBLIC COMMENT: NEXT MEETING, REGULAR, SPECIAL, STUDY SESSION, PRIVATE RETREAT, PUBLIC WORKSHOP, AND/OR
    NON-BROWN ACT COMPLIANT MEETING OF SO-CALLED “MOBILITY PARTNERSHIP”

    Dear Mr. Holtzclaw,
    If you believe opponents of Prop. 6, roads and bridges are deteriorating in California because we don’t pay enough in taxes&fees.
    Could the reason be that our leaders divert massive amounts of taxes&fees from highways and bridges to boondoggle bankrupt transit
    fiascoes, which are conceived insolvent, born bankrupt, and kept running by ever-increasing transfusions of gas&diesel taxes and vehicle
    fees by bad public policy?
    Take SBC for example. What percentage of annual passenger trips are taken by private vehicles? Answer: 99.6% based on the last
    COG data I reviewed for one of your predecessors. What percentage of annual passenger trips are taken by public sector transit? Answer:
    Less than one-half percent. What percentage of total cost is paid by transit riders? Answer: 1% using legal accounting, not transit agency
    accounting. What percentage of total transport costs do motorists pay? Answer: 102% including highway construction and maintenance,
    on about 4.2 T annual passenger miles nationwide, SBC’s motorists included.
    If you doubled COG’s “ridership” nine times, how much money would COG spend on its boondoggle passenger fiascoe? Answer:
    An amount greater than SBC’s annual budget based on the last COG data I reviewed. I gave all this to your predecessor, when I served
    on COG’s Citizens Transit Task Force and COG’s Citizens Rail Advisory Committee.
    My friends in SBC said, So Joe, what is the answer? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Privatization.
    If you want to take a bus ride, then you pay for your fare, and you don’t ask your neighbors to pay for your ride.
    Rail: same answer.
    Lunar Escalator: same answer.
    I traced the consequences of the unsound, unsustainable transport policy in a paper I wrote while studying transportation law and
    policy at the Norman Y. Mineta International Institute for Surface Transportation Policy Studies at SJSU, “ISTEA Reauthorization and
    the National Transportation Policy: Overlooked Externalities and Forgotten Felt Necessities,” 25 Transportation Law Journal, pp. 87-et seq.
    (1996), published in shortened version in Transportation Lawyer in 1996.
    We are subjected to unaccountable, non-transparent governance abuse by unelected “directors” at the transit agencies, e.g., COG,
    VTA, etc., who govern without voter consent because they are appointed, not elected, to the agency. They cover up the full extent of
    their boondoggle losses by using non-GAAP accounting methods like Enron did, like Bernie Madoff did, called “off-book” accounting,
    where capital and fixed costs are omitted from their financial reports, making it look like they are not as deep in deficit spending as
    they really are. They violate the Unfair Business Practices Act by pricing services below cost, thus forcing taxpayers to make-up the
    difference. They call it “success.” In reality, it is just the opposite.
    So, they have us on the Road to Serfdom, and so long as they reward their special interest friends who make out like bandits
    with the insolvent transit operations they refuse to reform.
    If you want to know where this will end, just take a look at the history of the USSR.
    Why don’t you report truth in transportation? We don’t get it from our local leaders.
    Caveat viator.
    Joseph P. Thompson, Esq.
    Past-Chair, Legislation Committee, Transportation Lawyers Assn.
    Past-President, 1999-2001, 2006, Gilroy-Morgan Hill Bar Assn.
    (408) 848-5506
    e-Mail: [email protected]

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