November 04, 2000

"Good heavens! Is that your voter pamphlet?!?"

It's 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon. I've been reading voter pamphlets and sample ballots since before 10:00. And I'm not done yet. Nearly 30 propositions is way more than I want to handle in one sitting.

I like the principles that went into making America a democracy. Governments, I believe, are supposed to work for the people, and I like the idea that the citizens of a community have opportunities to express how they want government to work. But frankly, this election has started to feel a just a little ridiculous. (And I'm not even going to bring up the circus this year's presidential election has become thanks to the clowns competing for office. Besides changing arguments and personalities the way spoiled children change "must-have" toys, neither inspires my use of descriptive adjectives like "intelligent," "even-keeled" or "globally minded.")

Are voter pamphlets meant to inform the voter? Or confuse me? I read well and frequently, ten books in the last month, yet it takes me six hours to wade through the summaries, estimated impacts and arguments pro and con for 16 propositions. Is there a law somewhere that says things political must happen in language so dense and convoluted that normal people can't make heads or tails of the arguments? Or that the opposing arguments must spend the majority of their words distorting the reasoning of the other side, and then being inflammatory? Why can't there be a simple summary of how things are now, referencing context, an equally simple summary of the proposed changes, and concise, impartial descriptions of how those changes would impact daily existence, again in context? Perhaps a space could be provided for short statements for and against written by those who would be most immediately affected.

And why is it necessary for a single proposition to contain multiple effects? If this passes, these four things will change. What if I only want one of those imbedded items to be addressed? What if I like all but #3? Either way it gets a "no" vote, and everyone loses. By making the propositions so complicated and then permitting only a yes or no response, how are the authors to know why I declined to accept the proposal? Perhaps there was a gem of an idea in there that I would have loved to vote yes on if it had only been by itself.

People love to cite the low voter-turnout numbers and wail that no one cares anymore about the country. Perhaps it's not that Jane Voter doesn't care about her country, state, or city, but rather that the system originally designed to collect her opinions no longer interfaces well with Jane. Perhaps, like me, she's confused and frustrated by the tangle of language in and sheer volume of her voter pamphlet. Perhaps, like me, she sees candidates who place showmanship and name-calling above issues. Perhaps, like me, she wonders exactly how much of an impact on a bloated bureaucracy her little tick marks on preprinted bits of paper are going to have anyway.

I know, I know. It's cumulative. One pebble, one raindrop on it's own is insignificant, but placed just so one more pebble can start a landslide, and landing just here a raindrop can trigger a flood. But I am neither pebble nor raindrop. I like to know my significance. Perhaps if politics found a way to make Jane Voter and myself feel like we were valued individuals, with minds and hearts to be respected, politics would find us more willing participants.

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