There’s an old song that goes, “You talk too much; You worry me to death; You talk too much; You even worry my pet.”
Californians, we vote too much. It worries me, and if I had a pet, it would be freaked out. More precisely, we vote on too many people and measures.
Let’s take a tour of my June 7 presidential primary ballot.
First, I notice that my ballot comes with a separate warning that there are “34 candidates for United States Senator listed on two pages” and “You can only vote for one candidate.” Let’s leave for another time the fact that about 30 people with 0.0001 percent chance of making it to the runoff are running.
The first race is the headliner, the presidential primary election. I’m certainly not going to argue that we shouldn’t vote for presidential candidates, even though, thanks to the votes of many, this election is shaping up to be a contest not between a Democrat and a Republican, but between a sane person and a misogynistic, racist narcissist.
I also get to weigh in on a member of the party county committees in my Assembly district. But wait, I can’t because I’m a No Party Preference voter. Instead, I research whom to vote for to help out friends who ask me, because no one has any clue who these people are.
Next I receive yet another notice that there are 34 candidates running for U.S. Senate, and I can vote for only one. Got it. Oh, here’s another one, on the next page.
Fifth and sixth, I have two fairly straightforward choices for Congress and the state Assembly.
The fun really begins with the elections for judge of the Superior Court. We should not be voting for judges. Judges are tasked with applying the facts of a case to the law. Sometimes that leads to unpopular results. Judges should not have to worry about winning a popularity contest to keep their jobs. And voters have very little information about judicial candidates.
Industrious voters will visit a bar association website for rankings and look at endorsements. To those three voters, well done, but you’re still relying on less-than-ideal information.
Next I can or cannot vote for the Los Angeles County district attorney and Los Angeles County supervisor. Both are running unopposed so these aren’t exactly barnburners. It is worth noting that the district attorney is an elected position but the public defender is not.
Finally, we have a state measure, put on the ballot by the Legislature to amend the state Constitution (yet again), to allow the Legislature, by a two-thirds vote, to suspend members without salary and benefits. This is the Legislature’s reaction to past ethical scandals to show they are now ethical. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it potentially opens the door for intimidation of sitting legislators.
We will have many more measures on the November ballot, perhaps as many as 18. Many are ballot initiatives, thanks to California’s generous system of direct democracy. A few words come to mind, including “voter fatigue” and “voter confusion.” The list goes on, but I’ll let you save your energy for November.
We trust ourselves too much to make decisions about public officials and ballot measures, and rarely vote to give up our power to choose those officials or to narrow the ability to put measures on the ballot. Instead members of the electorate will leave it to the few of us who vote to choose our many, many elected officials and enact or defeat our many, many ballot measures.
Jessica A. Levinson is a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and the president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. Contact her at Jessica.Levinson@lls.edu.