The Dirty Little Secret That Destroyed US Politics

PrintbookFinal8Most Americans are sick of hearing about “Polarization in Washington.” Voters are angry, and they demand change. However, neither party has been able to get much accomplished in the past ten years. Cable news channels have built an industry by exploiting the vast and growing gap between Liberals and Conservatives, Republicans and Democrats as the defining feature of politics in Washington.

What has created this apparent hatred that causes elected officials to refuse cooperation with one another? Pundits, retired officials, and long-time journalists all decry the situation and opine different potential causes. Most agree that the complete failure to cooperate with each other is a relatively new phenomenon. Some blame it on specific events, like the impeachment of President Clinton, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Affordable Care Act, Racial tensions, lies or misleading statements by years of White House occupants.

Others blame ideologies, including more than the simple liberal versus conservative beliefs. There are also libertarian, progressive, evangelical and mainstream voters. Each of these has advocates in Congress.

Though any of the cited issues may have had some part in the destruction of our political system, few people realize that one single event was the major driver of government incompetence. Technically it wasn’t a single one-day event like an election. It was an ongoing process that went under the radar. Very few Americans knew it was happening or understood how it would affect us.

The event, occurring primarily in 2010, was Redistricting. At first view, it seems to be a boring, technical, and benign process, but it created the havoc we see in Washington.

What is redistricting and how does it work?

Redistricting is a process of changing district borders in each state, to compensate for demographic changes. Theoretically, every state examines the borders of each of its districts and may make some changes, every 10 years. Some districts may become larger, some may become smaller, some may maintain the same amount of geography but may change shape. Any of these changes may affect demographics in any district. New district outlines typically reflect changes in population size, area ethnic population, average income level, average age, and (most important) voting registration history.

The change of a district’s shape, therefore, may determine which parties and candidates are most likely to win. Either party may gain or lose, according to the newly included and excluded areas.

A key tactic in changing a district is called gerrymandering. It is a process of making changes, usually for political reasons, that are not logical extensions or reductions. To visualize the result of gerrymandering,  consider a district map that was previously nearly round in shape, and changing it by adding a larger oblong area to the east and subtracting half of its previous boundaries from the west.

Though the redistricting process is supposed to be nonpartisan, it’s different in each state. It is almost impossible to detect specific reasons for many changes, but each party seems to have an overall strategy for affecting changes in each district.

In 2010 redistricting, the Republicans apparently wanted to become dominant in the state legislatures by bringing new winning candidates into many small districts.

Democrat strategy was apparently a combination of two things. One piece was to strengthen the voting majority for existing elected seats in the House. The other was to take advantage of immigration and re-shape districts in which they could grow their base by appealing to minority voters.

Both parties got their wishes. Democrats got firm control of the states with the largest voting populations, like California and New York. They made inroads in Texas and Florida, largely by creating immigrant blocs, though not enough to win electoral majorities.

The Republicans won the majority of the governorships, state legislatures, and congressional seats. To the dismay of their mainstream leaders, however, most of their additions on the congressional  level were aligned with the so-called “Tea Party.” This group now dominates a separate group known as the House Freedom Caucus. Though this group publically defines itself as conservative Republicans, it operates much like a “fifth column,” covertly operating against programs supported by moderate Republicans.

How did those results affect Washington? 

Democrat leaders in the House found themselves in conflict with the so-called “progressives,” composed of disaffected young voters, millennial female voters who don’t subscribe to the traditional Democrat talking points of women’s issues, and followers of Senator Bernie Sanders.

House Republican leaders found themselves between two groups that are virtually irreconcilable: far-right conservatives and moderate mainstream members. Every proposed bill is either too conservative or too expensive for one group or the other.

The overall result is that few bills can move through the House since a majority vote depends on support from progressives, mainstream Democrats, far right Freedom Caucus members, and mainstream Republicans.

In the Senate, these splits haven’t had as much of an effect as in the House, because senators are elected for six-year terms, while House members serve only two-year terms before a turnover can take place. If advocates of term limits succeed, however, the Senate will soon face conflicts with newly elected members. 

The Ugliest Result of Redistricting

Finding themselves unable to pass meaningful legislation, both parties have fallen back to name-calling, negative hyperbole, anonymous leaks to the media, and other tactics to block success by either party. This is likely to go on, until the rise of a third party, or the virtual death of one of the existing two.

The press and pundit narrative of “parties that just don’t like each other” is false. Most honest lawmakers would like the situation to change. Some thought that election of a well-liked President might lead to compromise. But we haven’t had a universally liked President since the 1960s.

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Are We At War With Ourselves?

Though this article reports numerous ugly statements and inappropriate actions by mass media, political parties, and social media posters, please note that the author of this article is a middle-road Independent with no affiliation or party preference. Negative remarks about President Trump, his opponents, and his critics, are results of public statements, for which this article has no partisan bias.

FullFinal-TVTW071016America has entered a new era that may be more dangerous than anything this country has experienced since the Civil War.

Following the election in 2016, we have had millions of people in bitter conflict with each other. Though most of the conflict thus far has been in social media, mass media, and political venues, we have seen a few ugly street clashes and destruction on college campuses. Unlike political fights of the past, however, the fight seems to intensify and is becoming more violent and hateful.

Of course, our country has had social conflicts before. The anti-war battles of the 1960s and 1970s are good examples, as are the African-American Civil Rights struggles of the mid-1950s and 1960s. Though there were millions of people on both sides of these movements, these fights were different from today’s conflict in one extremely significant way: insurgents in both of these battles were fighting for specific, concrete goals.

The anti-war movement fought to end the Vietnam War. When the war ended in 1973, the angry energy died down. Similarly, the Civil Rights activists fought for specific things: the end of segregation in schools and restaurants, voting rights for people of all races, the end of racial violence, and admission to all-white universities. Once they had achieved these objectives or at least had made significant progress, the violence subsided, and the movement moved to the courts and politics.

Many other protest movements had no clear goals and therefore only mustered luke warm energy. For example, the Occupy Wall Street movement involved millions nationwide but had no leadership and no tangible objectives that middle-Americans could embrace. The movement, therefore, collapsed of its own weight.

The conflict we see today is a new kind of beast. Though political conflict typically has the Far-Left on one side opposing the Far-Right, the bitterness today is not only a political skirmish between Democrats and Republicans. There are splits in both parties. Conservatives fight with mainstream Republicans, and Progressive Democrats on the left remain furious with their party’s leadership and behind-the-scene operatives.

Nasty rhetoric began in the months before the November election, but when Donald Trump became President-Elect, opposition voices became more strident than at any time in recent history. Traditionally, new presidents have a so-called “honeymoon period,” in which mass media and opposition leaders permit the new Chief Executive to begin an administration free of bare-knuckle politics. Most new presidents have three to six months of this respectful courtesy. The honeymoon for President Obama was even longer. President Trump received no such courtesy period. In fact, the bombast against him began during the transition between administrations, long before his inauguration.

Many statements by leaders of the opposition party continuously use name-calling and false narratives with language and depth far worse than we have ever seen. Recently, a long-time Congressional Representative referred to the entire Trump cabinet as “a bunch of scumbags.” Other leaders have loudly called for the impeachment of the President. Despite the fact that there is no evidence of any offenses, other than Mr. Trump’s often annoying statements and tweets, his opponents continue to make nonsensical claims.

How did this fighting develop and continue to grow?

Though this unprecedented bitterness has several different causes, the growth of social media may be its strongest driver. Since President Obama’s victory in 2008, the number of social media users has nearly tripled. Moreover, President Trump’s highly publicized Tweets may have attracted more people to express themselves through this medium. Social media messaging has gained credibility with some people, especially people in the age range designated as ‘millennials.’ Though there is no way to measure this effect, social media users now seem to post or repost statements without any reliable source. In many cases, they admittedly “make stuff up” to fit a narrative, without concern for fact-checking of any kind.

More troubling is the new practice of media reporters—the internet, print, and cable news—to use social media, especially tweets, as support for a so-called news story. With so many different voices adding themselves to the fray, misinformation often takes on an aura of truth and becomes used as proof statements.

Whether antagonistic remarks are from political leaders, media opinions or whimsical social media posts, Americans read them, or hear them from others and repeat them, often augmenting them or using them out of context. Since they typically come from one side attacking the other, the aggrieved side fires back with equally irrational statements.

Why this war from within threatens America

Leaders of every country in the world follow internet reports and form opinions and strategies based on their analyses of America’s strength. Watching our current turmoil, our friends and allies may view the US as being out of control, and view American leadership with great skepticism. Our enemies may see our exaggerated conflicts as an opportunity to ignore America and continue policies that hurt our economy and safety.

For example, opponents of the President have nurtured a storyline that the Trump campaign plotted with Russia to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Trump win the presidency. The so-called ‘proof’ of this story, is that candidate Trump stated in his election campaign that America might benefit from an improved relationship with Russia. Opponents add that Trump hired a campaign advisor for two or three months who once had consulted with the government of Ukraine.  Ukraine, of course, considers Russia to be an enemy of their country. A consultancy relationship with Ukraine has no bearing on a US relationship with Russia. Further, the former US  Director of National Intelligence has stated that there is no evidence of a Trump-Russia collaboration of any kind. Nevertheless, Congressional leaders have kept this allegation alive and begun investigations in multiple committees. Stories like this one shake the confidence that our allies have in American leadership.

Domestically, we will soon have an environment of lawmakers who are unable to vote for or against any issue unless it is supported by a majority of the combatants in their states and districts. This will result in leaders who are unable to lead, in a gridlock that leaves individual Americans suffering in anger.

How can we end this foolish quagmire?

All Americans have the right of free speech, guaranteed by the Constitution. Nevertheless, our leaders and mass media writers have the tools to tamp down rhetoric that makes America look foolish to the rest of the world.

Though social media enhances the viciousness, the White House, Congress, and the mass media are the original sources of it. Following are some recommendations on steps these leaders must take lower the public temperature and create a positive national direction.

Recommendation One: President Trump should limit his Twitter tweets to issues of policy, or significant announcements. Criticism of celebrities and argumentative dialog with critics add fuel to the ongoing fires.

Recommendation Two: The White House should create private dialog sessions with all leadership groups, especially opponents and media leaders. All discussions should be kept confidential. Leaders need to work together to create ground rules for public statements. Ground rules must have mutual agreement and benefit to all parties. This approach will not muzzle anyone from speaking out on their opinions on policy. But it can depressurize the nastiness that has overtaken the country.

Recommendation Three: Unless new bills are likely to become future election issues, leaders of both parties should meet together privately to identify common ground. If possible, they should agree to limit public disagreement to policy issues. Regardless of the gulf between the parties, they should ‘sell’ their viewpoints without personal attacks or implying wrongdoing by the opposition.

Recommendation Four: The White House needs to reach out to the press, to create ground rules to benefit all parties. The President needs to speak with media executives privately and negotiate. Both sides in this kind of dialog have items with which to negotiate. For example, The President can eliminate statements about “fake news” and charges of lying. The White House can offer greater access in exchange for confidentiality. Media leaders can offer advance notification of stories to advise the Whitehouse of major negative stories.

Memo to the White House and Congressional staffers: The foregoing recommendations are seen through the eyes of an outsider. You may have better approaches. If so, we look forward to your success in changing the status quo. You have a responsibility to fix the chaos that is tearing the country apart. It’s not important to select the perfect plan. What’s important is making the plan work.

Memo to Mass Media:  Words matter. Careless words often matter more. Please tell the truth.

“To borrow from the words of Winston Churchill: ‘Never have so many been manipulated so much by so few.’” — Aldous Huxley

 

 

The Democratic Party Isn’t Dead But Desperately Needs New Medicine

(Author’s note:  America needs a two-party system, with equal power and participation for both parties. Though this non-partisan article portrays a negative view of the Democrat Party’s current state, it presents the factual disarray with a roadmap for positive change to regain the party’s historical national leadership.)

The last few political years have not been good for Democrats, and Hillary Clinton’s loss in the presidential election is only the latest symptom of a rudderless ship making little or no progress.

FullFinalRepublicans now control the Senate and the House of Representatives. Only 17 states have Democrat governors. Only 13 state legislatures have Democrat majorities.

Although Democratic President Barrack Obama held the presidency for eight years, his personal popularity and a highly favorable media treatment couldn’t stop a slow-but-steady Democrat descent that began long before Obama’s wins. The president had strong support from minorities and young voters. But that support was his alone, and could not transfer to the remainder of the party. Though the hapless leadership of Debbie Wasserman Schultz was part of the Democrat problems, electing a new DNC chair will provide only a tiny uptick.

THE GOOD NEWS FOR DEMOCRATS: THE PARTY CAN STILL CHANGE AND REGAIN MOMENTUM.

The keyword is “change.” The party needs different strategies and different leadership voices.

Democrat leaders need to reposition two or three of their loudest and most embarrassing voices to the ‘back row’ of the caucus. Though people like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Maxine Waters may be effective lawmakers, they are unappealing to the electorate at large. Ms. Pelosi is 76 years old. Mr. Schumer is 66. Ms. Waters is 78. Pelosi has a net worth of more than $70-million. Waters’ net worth is around $5-million, and Schumer is also wealthy, at a bit under $1-million. How can such wealthy senior citizens relate to a Democratic constituency of youth and mainstream workers struggling to pay bills every month?

Strategically, the Democrats have limited their leadership to bashing Donald Trump, just as they bashed Bush 43 and every other Republican they could vilify through identity politics. Though these tactics may energize marginal social media hate-mongers, this strategy turns off moderates and mainstream voters in both parties.

THE PRESCRIPTION

A much stronger way to strengthen Democrat positioning is to get out in front of Donald Trump’s agenda.

  • Stop screaming about Trump’s wall, and come up with a better plan to enforce our borders. You can include e-verify, state-of-the-art electronic detection, drones, increased manpower, and programs to punish employers who hire immigrants without specific licensing. (This can be far more effective than Trump’s wall since it can also be designed to track the estimated 40 percent of illegal immigrants who overstay their visas.
  • Instead of trying to block the inevitable repeal of Obamacare, promote a Democrat program for “Obamacare II.” Write a plan that keeps the framework and theoretically fixes all of the problems. Include a single payer option that will have lower drug prices, that the party negotiates with the pharmaceutical companies. (Remember, Democrats. You don’t have to implement anything. You only have to promote it. Even if it never comes to pass, this program will raise the party’s positive visibility.)
  • Enhance Medicare, and eliminate Republican plans for a voucher system by the following strategies:
    • Fund and implement an FBI task force to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse, thereby lowering Medicare costs.
    • Sponsor and enforce “tort reform” to lower costs for malpractice insurance for hospitals and individual doctors.
    • Implement means testing so that high-income people only qualify for Medicare for catastrophic illness or injury. Negotiate lower drug prices, and lower costs for high-priced diagnostic equipment.

By promoting effective programs that are more attractive than Trump’s, the party can reclaim middle-class voters and begin winning local races all over the country.

And one more thing. Plan strategies to be promoted on a micro-target basis. Don’t fool yourselves into believing that nationwide poll numbers indicate uniform support. The overwhelming population numbers in California, and New York, along with Washington DC influence can make bad ideas seem supportable. Microtargeting can optimize support in Omaha, Madison, and Jacksonville while maintaining the support of the large Democratic masses on the coasts.

 

Do Leaders in Washington Understand Cyberwar Technology?

How important is technical knowledge to leaders running our country? In a world in which future threats will probably include cyber warfare, America’s civilian government must understand the fast-developing weapons of technology. As the President-Elect fills his cabinet and advisory posts, technology depth is mandatory in most areas.

Along with Department of Defense, senior staffs of Homeland Security, State, Treasury, Transportation, FEMA, FBI, and CIA must be people who intimately understand the language and concepts of technology. These are the people who can effectively recommend and execute options available to the President in defending us against a huge array of cyber attack methods.

FullFinal-TVTW071016Most Americans know little about cyber warfare, and the news media seems to understand very little of the imminent dangers it portends. Most news stories conflate loosely related stories of computer hacking by Russia or China with cyber warfare.

Though malicious hacking may result in stolen information, it doesn’t destroy aircraft, kill or disrupt the lives of millions of civilians, or permanently cripple whole economies. Cyber warfare can do such things without warning. That means that our top decision makers must immediately understand the recommendations of technical people to respond to any specific disaster.

It also reveals that many of the most prominent political people in government are unqualified to serve in cabinet-level positions.

In the past 50 years, technology development has changed every aspect of American life. And as America changes, much of the rest of the world changes with us. Moreover, the rate of change continues to accelerate. If anyone hasn’t grown up understanding basic technology terminology, he or she is unlikely to ever catch up without undergoing a year or more of intensive training.

This breathtaking rate of development means that most people who are 45 or older do not have a background that would enable them to understand cyberwar, robotics, or other technology areas that require decisions from the highest government levels that affect our entire population. Of course, older people who have worked in IT and technology companies or have had engineering backgrounds can be effective at any age. But for the 90 percent who haven’t had those backgrounds, it’s very difficult to participate if they weren’t students in 1990 or later.

Democrats and Republicans together had 22 candidates in the 2016 Presidential primaries. The youngest, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are both 46. Both are lawyers with no apparent technical background. All other candidates were at least 50, with most in their 60s or older. The only candidate with a technology background was Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Looking at the Congress, the average age of House members is 57. The average age of Senators is 61. Of 100 Senators, 51 are lawyers, and 25 are from academia. Of 435 House members, 151 are lawyers and 80 are from academia. Others are primarily doctors, school teachers, business owners, former mayors, and pastors.

Senate and House members with technology backgrounds consist of one physicist, one microbiologist, one chemist, and seven engineers in the House. In the Senate, one member is an engineer.

Obviously, our most visible and vocal candidates for the President-Elect’s cabinet and advisory posts lack the technical background to serve in many of the key positions. A Secretary of Defense, for example, must understand the technical complexities of Cyber Warfare. Remarks made in debates and media interviews indicated that most of our senior lawmakers and governors do not know anything whatsoever about Cyber Warfare. They use a few keywords, but embarrass themselves by using them inappropriately. Though they have probably had access to confidential briefings explaining some of the vast complexities of Cyber Warfare lawmakers and senior government managers typically send staff members to such presentations.

The President-Elect’s nomination of three retired generals—General Flynn, General Mattis, and General Kelly—seems to be appropriate and smart. Many of today’s senior officers are graduates of one of the three military academies, which are engineering schools along with their military curricula. Throughout their careers, senior officers receive assignments to military universities like the US Army Command and General Staff College, the Naval War College, and the US Army War College. These institutions combine technology with group assignments to apply weaponry with strategic planning. Generals from allied countries often attend to provide additional insights.

We will undoubtedly see other military people nominated, along with technically competent business people. Future administrations should not consider the usual candidates—political allies, campaign donors, and lobbyists—unless they have the requisite tech knowledge.

How Real Is Voter Fraud in US Elections?

With Jill Stein’s quixotic recount demands and President-Elect Trump’s unprovable claims of fraud against him in the 2016 Presidential Elections, we once again have a partisan argument that will go nowhere.

Stein’s recount demands in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, are supposedly based on claims by a computer expert that fraud is technically possible. Added to that is media speculation that Russia could have hacked vote counts in key precincts. Since voting machines aren’t connected to the internet and are too widely distributed to be hacked effectively, this imaginary scenario is a non-starter.

Unfortunately, all of these fraud claimants are only addressing vote count issues. The real probability of voter fraud is corruption in voter registration. Though thirty-one states require some form of voter ID, nineteen states and the District of Columbia require none. The states that do not require voter ID include California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania who together earn 159 electoral votes that traditionally go to Democrats.

FullFinal-TVTW071016Democrats point out that there are relatively few reported cases of voter fraud. False registrants, however, are nearly impossible to detect. No one knows the extent of this problem. A voter-by-voter investigation would consume millions of dollars in large states and would represent a waste of money and take years to complete.

Party officials vigorously fight any proposed legislation requiring a voter ID at the polls, on the grounds that they are somehow racist. The political narrative is that poor people may not have a means of acquiring a photo ID if they do not have transportation to the registration site where photos are taken.

These claims are questionable at best. If people have a means of traveling to the polls, couldn’t they travel to have an ID created? Couldn’t the same political parties that drive people to the polls provide a small group of volunteers to drive people to the ID creation site?

The resistance to voter ID laws does not in of itself imply that the officials in these states are suborning voter fraud. It’s more likely that they don’t want to spend the money required to implement a program that cannot help them politically. Nevertheless, their stubbornness on this issue leaves elections open to possible chicanery.

How does registration fraud occur? There are several different scenarios:

– Voters die , but their names remain on the voter registration rolls. Enterprising political operatives can use computer technology to scan databases to identify deceased names that remain and send substitute voters to replace them.

– People register in one area, relocate and mistakenly register again, sometimes with a different name, e.g. a new married name. The previous registration remains open for a fraudulent voter.

– College students at age 18, register while still living with their parents; then register again at a college in a different county or state.

– Political operatives recruit unregistered people, often non-citizens, provide necessary information on election day, and pay them a small amount of money to vote according to instructions.

Regardless of party, the only sane solution is requiring a voter ID with a photo. The US government needs to sponsor legislation and funds enabling all states to implement such a program before the next Presidential election.

Personal disclosure: I have investigated this issue by serving as a poll judge and poll watcher in three different elections in California. Though I am an independent, middle-of-the-road voter with no party affiliations, I am convinced that many voters I observed were not legally registered. The registration process appears to be slipshod at best.

Will Our Next President Be A Woman?

The Presidential Election of 2016 is now history. Behind the scenes, however, political leaders have already begun positioning candidates for the next election, whether in 2020 or 2024.

Regardless of party or ideology, one or both of the next nominees should be women.

Despite rhetoric claiming a glass ceiling and anti-woman bias, the voting public has been ready for a female president for at least 20 years. Ironically, the primary roadblock to potential female presidential candidates has been Hillary Clinton. Other women, potentially more electable candidates, have been on the sidelines since the end of Bill Clinton’s term. The big-money power brokers have done everything possible to insist that the former Secretary of State be the first woman President. All other women have had to wait for their turn.

Mrs. Clinton had two opportunities and therefore blocked chances for other women, since 2001. Her mantra was “Vote for me because I’m a woman.” That makes little sense to most voters. Tens of millions of Americans have voted for women and elected them as governors, senators, and big-city mayors. Many other women have been leaders of some of America’s largest and most successful companies. America has become very comfortable with female leaders in virtually every profession.

We don’t want a political candidate to say “Vote for me because I’m a woman.” We may be inspired, however, if she says, “Vote for me because I have the vision, leadership, policies, attitude, and capability to run the US Government.” Her gender is not an issue, any more than it would be for a man.

Both parties have excellent female candidates, any of whom could be the next president. Following is a list of twelve women, all strong leaders. Any of them could win the presidency with a powerful campaign. They range widely in age, but all are “in the ballpark.” The youngest woman in the group will have more government experience in 2020 than Senator Obama had when he ran in 2008. The eldest has a long resume of leadership positions and is approximately the same age as Hillary Clinton.

In alphabetical order:

Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Joni Ernst
Former CEO Carly Fiorina
US Representative Tulsi Gabbard
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator Maggie Hassan
Governor Nikki Haley
US Representative Mia Love
Governor Susana Martinez
Former Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
Senator Elizabeth Warren

FullFinal-TVTW071016This group of twelve includes six Democrats and six Republicans. Ideologically they extend from the Progressive Left to the Conservative Right. This group includes two African Americans, one Pacific Islander, one Latina, and one Indian. As a group, they “look like America.”

America needs to elect women like these to serve as our President. Voters should send a signal to the rest of the world that we don’t marginalize any group because of gender, race, religion, or ethnicity. It’s time to assure every American child, male or female, that she or he has an equal opportunity to be heard and to lead.

Ballot Bombs Can Affect Your Life

Had enough of ridiculous political candidates? Then think of the rest of the ballot, the part that can affect you personally—those sneaky ballot measures.

tempblackframeVisualize this. You wait in line to vote for your chosen nominee after months of repetitive hype. You mark a ballot for your candidate, then select many others for lesser offices, most of whom you don’t recognize. Then you get to those long, wordy choices called ballot measures, initiatives, or propositions.

You read one or two of them and realize you don’t understand the possible impact of “YES” or “NO.” Many voters stop at that point and submit their ballots. Others believe they must enter a vote, and guess at the impact of their choices. A relatively small group—perhaps ten percent—have seen an ad for or against a specific measure and make an impulsive choice.

Finally, ten percent who are ardent believers for or against a measure make an informed choice. They might be environmentalists, education advocates, advocates for homeless people, or any of dozens of other groups who believe their state should add or change a law.

FullFinal-TVTW071016Most voters have no idea of what they have chosen, or how that choice will affect their lives. In many cases, the passage of a ballot measure will have a direct impact on every citizen in the state. Voters are effectively writing laws, many of which will have unexpected consequences.

Twenty-five states, including my state of California, add these additional decisions to our ballots. Our votes on a ballot measure may raise taxes, release criminals from prison, determine education quality for children, or any of hundreds of other areas that affect our lives.

Ballot measures were probably noble ideas when they first became part of the electoral process. Over time, however, politicians and organizations have discovered sneaky ways to use them to end-run the legislative process. They often have measures written by scholarly attorneys who know the legal definition of words that may differ from general use. They also use trickery such as double negatives that confuse the meaning of sentences. Hapless voters often misunderstand the wording and vote for or against measures in error.

An interesting example is the infamous California “Prop 8.”

The official title of Prop 8 was: Proposition 8 – Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. On November 4, 2008, voters approved the measure and made same-sex marriage illegal in California. A federal judge later ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution.

Personal disclosure: I voted against Prop 8. My vote was against the government regulating personal marriage choices for anyone. It was neither for nor against same-sex marriage, per se, though it effectively supported it.

After a deluge of TV ads for and against Prop 8, many voters became confused. Understanding that the measure dealt with same-sex marriage, many people favoring same-sex marriage voted for the proposition. Many people who were against same-sex marriage, voted against Prop 8. As a result, it was impossible to tell whether voters really supported or rejected the proposition.

California voters will see seventeen different ballot measures on November 8. They all need some study before each voter makes an informed decision. Some of them have had high volume advertising campaigns, for and against them. Advertising in some cases has been so sleazy, that many voters know less now than they knew before the advertising campaigns. Costs for this advertising will reach $450-million, according to the Los Angeles Times

Issues that Californians will vote on include marijuana legalization, gun control, healthcare and drug prices, condoms in porn, plastic bags, repealing or altering the death penalty, tobacco taxes, and several county tax or bond measures.

Voters need to understand how these measures reach the ballot. Measures are often unpalatable to elected lawmakers in state senates and assemblies. Often a large company or advocacy group uses a ballot measure to go around the legislators if it will increase their profits or gain some kind of social impact.

Ballot measures begin with petitions, often hawked by unknowledgeable volunteers or sales people. They approach busy shoppers outside of high-traffic stores with little more than a slogan like, “Please sign to feed hungry, homeless children.” When the army of petition carriers has enough signatures to reach the total required by law, most states require some form of legal review. Once the review declares the measure legal, there is usually a process to validate the petition signatures. However, some states waive the signature validation for a fee. Most measures can pass those hurdles easily. Many people don’t recall signing, and some sign without realizing that they are initiating a law-making process.

Memo to voters in states with ballot measures: Be wary of the impact of your perfunctory “Yes” or “No.” The proposition you validate or invalidate may affect your life for many years.