Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | July 22, 2008

Don’t be a low-information voter

With the presidential general election less than four months away, I’m starting to turn my attention to the statewide initiatives that will be on this November’s ballot. So far, a dozen propositions have qualified for the general election ballot, with one more possible addition, pending a count of submitted signatures.

Unless you want to be a “low-information voter,” it’s not too soon to begin studying the pros and cons of the statewide propositions that will be on the general election ballot.

What’s a low-information voter? Blogger Mike Pontillo defines them as “… individuals who are not knowledgeable and vote anyway. The term ‘low-information voter,’ in political discourse, sounds better than the word ‘idiot.’”

Blogger Kevin Field has a slightly different take, explaining that low-information voters “… rely on talk radio and less-than-factual hearsay from friends and family members to shape their political decisions.”

Low-information voters are the people that the recent controversial New Yorker cover cartoon tried – and failed – to mock.

Whichever definition you prefer, start learning about the issues now so that you can cast an educated ballot on Nov. 4.

The qualified statewide propositions cover issues ranging from the treatment of farm animals to an attempt to ban same-sex marriage. Voters will be asked to approve bonds to fund a high-speed train system, renewable and alternative energy research and incentives, home-purchase programs for veterans and construction and renovation of children’s hospitals.

You can review all of the propositions at the California Secretary of State’s web site.

When ballots are finalized with local candidates and ballot measures, more information will be available on the Smart Voter web site.

Even now, however, it’s clear that the general election ballot will feature quite a crop of propositions. I haven’t decided how I’ll vote on most of the measures, but one proposition in particular has me especially torn. It’s Proposition 11, a redistricting reform proposal from the League of Women Voters.

I’ve been writing in favor of redistricting reform for years. With the current system, legislators draw districts for the state Senate, state Assembly, and House of Representatives following each census. Instead of drawing compact districts made up of communities with shared interests, legislators draw sprawling, oddly shaped districts that ensure that the same political party will continue to hold each district.

Here’s what I wrote in 2006: “California’s system is so broken that it’s rare for a state or congressional legislative seat to change hands. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reported that in [the November 2006] election, ‘a third of legislative candidates won their races with 70 percent or more of the vote.’ With seats that ridiculously safe, legislators don’t have to be responsive to constituents, in large part because they don’t have to compete in tough races against viable candidates.”

You’d think, then, that I’d be all for Prop 11, but it has a serious flaw: It only reforms redistricting for the state legislators. It exempts the powerful House of Representatives.

Just as with Prop 99, which was faux eminent domain reform, I worry that Prop 11 might be faux redistricting reform. Because Prop 99 passed, the pressure to pass real eminent domain reform – a measure that applies to all real property, not just owner-occupied property; a measure that isn’t shot through with loopholes and exemptions – evaporated.

Similarly, if Prop 11 passes, I worry that  the pressure to pass real redistricting reform – a measure that applies to the drawing of California’s districts for the United States House of Representatives as well as the state Senate and state Assembly – will evaporate.

We don’t live in a perfect world and perfect solutions are not usually available. That’s why I’m willing to consider lots of methods to achieve redistricting reform, including using a panel of retired judges to draw districts, as Prop 77 proposed, or a commission of citizens, as Prop 11 suggests.

However, not all compromises are acceptable. For example, Prop 99 was – and is – an unacceptable compromise on eminent domain reform. I’ll study Prop 11 closely to decide if exempting Congressional districts is an acceptable compromise or not. It won’t be an easy decision.

But wherever I land on Prop 11, I’ll do it after reviewing reams of reliable information – because the last thing I want to be called is a low-information voter.



  1. […] Don’t be a low-information voter My Point Exactly __________________ ~Shel~ […]

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