Thursday, October 23, 2008

Voter Frustration

Today I don't teach. I have a ton of grading to do, but it's flexible, so I decided to do my political research and go vote (it's legal in my state to vote ahead of time, and encouraged, even).

Where I grew up, before each election, the Secretary of State (for the state) sent out a voter information pamphlet on cheap newspaper quality paper. In the pamphlet, each person running for an office could make a short statement. And for each of the voting decisions, there was a short explanation (in pretty neutral language), and then a short pro and con statement, written by someone who was identified, and then a short list of organizations that supported the statement.

So, for example, if there was a bond issue up for a vote, you'd see a description about how much was to be raised and what it would be used for. And then there would be a statement by someone who supported the issue, maybe a state legislator, or a school board official (for school building bonds). And then a short statement by someone opposed (sometimes there wasn't an opposing statement, but a blank space).

The pamphlets made it easy to spend an evening reading up on local bond stuff and such, and to form at least a minimally educated decision.

I was shocked when I moved to a new state to learn that it didn't send out an information pamphlet. And here? Here, there's no such thing, either. The political ads for local officials tend to talk about how Joe Schmo has lived in NW since birth, is married with four children, and loves the community. What does that mean that has anything to do with political decision making? (And the anti-ads tend to talk about how the opposing person has only lived in the area for 10 years, and thus doesn't understand anything. UGH.)

So I spent my morning trying to read up on the ballot information. I looked at websites for my party and even the other party. Both are focused pretty much exclusively on the presidential race. But I want information about my local legislators, about the County Clerk race and such.

I called my party headquarters, and they were sadly useless. People, I'm giving you a chance to say, "We support person X for this position, and here's why" and you send me to the city site?

The city site is great if you want to find out how to register or vote early, but doesn't give sample ballots or anything.

I finally called the city, and the person gave me the web address for a state government site, and after about 15 minutes of exploring, I found a way to find a sample local ballot, and voila, I was able to use that to find other information.

It shouldn't be that hard. We really need to make information way more accessible.

But then, I wonder, given the budget crisis in the state where I grew up, if they spend the money to send out the pamphlets anymore?


  1. we got this giant fat voter pamphlet -- but just one for the household, so i sent off to daughter, who is voting for the first time. i'm in CA, which is a big state, so i bet it cost bundles to send. but, glad they did. daughter has been reading it cover-to-cover, and called to talk/ask about several voter initiatives last night.

  2. Anonymous6:32 PM

    I have the same frustration, having grown up in California where they have the comprehensive pamphlet (the Libertarians always stepped up to write the "con" for every single bond issue, I remember). These days, I depend on the local League of Women Voters' Voter Guide, which has statements from all the candidates. In fact, we just joined the LMV, mainly because of the service they provide with the Guide.

    It helps that they finally got someone to help make their website decent (apparently someone went to them and said "I beg you to let me re-do your site, because it is abysmal").

  3. I grew up in Washington State and I remember my parents talking about the pamphlet and explaining the local issues to me. In my current state they don't have such a pamphlet, so usually my mom, dad, sister, and myself just try to track down info and then inform the rest of the fam. That's not my preferred method, but it works I guess.

  4. Here, the local paper publishes a ballot information page every few days for a few weeks before the election -- Vote this way if you want this to happen, or if you think this, vote this way if you want that -- which is good, given how dense the language is on our bills.

    But you have to buy the paper. It's not online!

  5. Anonymous9:41 AM

    I know what you mean! I lived in 2 states with info pamphlets (CA and MA) and now live in one without. It's such a good idea if we want an informed voter pool, not relying on whether they happen to buy X newspaper or know someone who's informed.

  6. I just moved to California, so I got the huge pamphlet, and the county also sent one out with the sample ballot, and statements from the local candidates. But what can you say about "I grew up in X town, went to X High School & College, and I've lived here to serve the community ever since."
    OK. HOW?????

  7. Holy crap. I had no idea that they didn't do that everywhere. How the hell are you supposed to know about all those obscure bonds?

    And it looks like you figured out how to fix the comments...

  8. Did you try the local public library?

    The Internet Public Library can sometimes lead to some good resources, too:

    When in doubt, ask a librarian. People often forget to look to libraries for this sort of information, but most libraries do have access to this material and work hard to provide free access of this information to everyone.

  9. Kathy A., That sounds like a good pamphlet. And congrats to your daughter for her first presidential election!

    Luolin, Oh, I didn't think of the local League of Women Voters!

    History Enthusiast, I bet your family appreciates your efforts!

    Delagar, I checked only the on-line newspaper stuff.

    Susan, So the voter information wasn't actually useful. :( bummer.

    MSILF, Do they put out a pamphlet in Israel?

    K8, Good suggestion! Yep, when I found what I needed, I was on the verge of going down to the library. Librarians are GREAT at helping me find information.