Absentee-Minded Voting

As a former attorney, I know how to read instructions, rules, and proposed laws.  However, as one who has permanent vote by mail status in California, I found this year’s Los Angeles County election ballot quite daunting.

First, having 12 statewide propositions on the ballot, in addition to a number of separate measures for Los Angeles city and Los Angeles County residents, may be normal for California, but it can be overwhelming for a recent out-of-state transplant.  And even for natives, many of these measures are complicated.

Q: You mean I gotta study this stuff, like a goddamn test or a bar exam?

A: Only if you want to make an informed decision.

It took me quite some time to read through and understand every ballot proposal. I was sent a comprehensive “General Election” guide along with my ballot. I found this guide to be very useful. It had the wording of each proposal in full legalese, but also summaries in plain English. And it contained detailed arguments for and against each proposal, each signed by several high-profile individuals or organizations that are lobbying for or against. It was very revealing to know, for example, whether a particular religious, business, or political organization whose views either match or sharply conflict with mine lined up in support of or opposition to particular proposals.

But I wonder how many people studied the proposals even to this minimal extent before voting.  Registered Democrats and Republicans presumably received “Voter Guides” suggesting how they should vote, but these guides are of limited usefulness.  The one I received did not even take positions on all of the propositions, and, on many of the propositions where it did have a “Yes” or “No” recommendation, it provided little or no explanation as to the reasoning behind the recommendations.  In some cases, I disagreed with the recommendations, and it’s my view that straight party-line voting on each proposal will not be suitable for most voters, IF they know the specifics of each proposal.

The second problem I had was with the Vote By Mail envelope itself.  The instruction booklet that accompanied my ballot mentions an easy “1-2-3” process.  The third step, according to the instructions, is simply to sign and date the back of the envelope.  However, as the picture below indicates, there is a line above the signature block that instructs: “Print Residence Address and City Where Registered (Mailing/PO Box not acceptable)“.  The instruction booklet does not mention this step.  Moreover, this direction on the envelope makes no sense to me, because my address is already pre-printed just an inch away, and I don’t live in a “city,” but rather, in a portion of L.A. County. 

Incredibly, when I called the L.A. County Registrar’s Office, they had no clue.  The person I spoke to didn’t even have an envelope nearby to look at.  When she asked her supervisor, she came back with “just draw an arrow pointing toward your name and address, and write ‘SAME'”.  That didn’t give me much comfort, especially when I think about how most voters will not contact officials for a clarification.  They’ll just guess, and they may guess wrong.  Having dealt many times with the federal government, I have seen lots of submissions get bounced on technicalities as minor as this.  California’s government may be just as picky.  I plan to contact one of the parties in L.A. County to see if they can make sense of this.

While I’m not sure if there’s a way to make voting in this year’s election less complicated, and I agree with Winston Churchill that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried,” my hopes that Los Angeles area voters will be able to make fully informed election decisions this year, and that their votes will be fully counted, are not sky high.

3 thoughts on “Absentee-Minded Voting”

  1. Matt,

    Ugh, I hate when election materials are poorly designed. As an election official (I run a polling place on election day), it makes my job more complicated, and it’s confusing for the voters.

    I can tell you that when a voter hands in their vote-by-mail ballot at the polling place on election day (this happens quite a bit), we are instructed only to verify that the voter has signed the envelope. We never check the address line – in fact, I’ve never heard the address line even mentioned in our extensive training sessions, whereas they hammer home the importance of making sure the voter has signed. So I’m guessing that the same applies if you mail the ballot in. In other words, it probably doesn’t matter whether you write your address on the envelope or not. I wish I could be more definitive about it, but I’m just a lowly pollworker!

  2. Thanks Oren, and thanks for your election work. Hopefully, your prediction is correct and it won’t make a difference whether the line is filled out correctly, or at all. And, needless to say, I want to encourage everyone who can vote, to do so.

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