can i vote “maybe”?

free and open elections are the pinnacle of democracy. it is a right that we are given by our government, a gesture of trust that says we, the people, should and must have a voice in the way our society is governed. and the faintest whisper counts just as much as the loudest scream – a single vote can affect the fate of millions.

there’s only one problem: you have to figure out who, and what, to vote for…

people in america are very helpful, and when it comes to elections, things are no different. scores of selfless, objective philanthropists are willing to help you make the right choice, an informed decision that takes into account the myriad pros and cons of any ballot proposition, bond measure, or intellectual topic for debate.

and you don’t even have to look for help. rest assured that if you have a publicly listed telephone number, a television, a radio, a doorknob on your house, or feet to walk down the street, you will be found and help will be proffered. actually, you probably don’t even need feet…just some means of locomotion. but i digress.

informative, full-color flyers with cool, objective facts give you the knowledge you need to sort out the issues. sensitive, topic-focused commercials also help to raise awareness. and just in case you don’t really go in for flyers or TV, then all you have to do is answer the phone – odds are, it’s someone there to help, like Martin Sheen or Gray Davis! (don’t worry, they have your phone number)

numerous unbiased groups of people are at your beck and call, trying to share their knowledge. for example, in SF, i had the help of both the Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender organizations, the California League of Conservation Voters, the San Francisco Democractic club, the Bay Guardian newspaper, and any number of other groups aligned for (or against) certain measures or people or small creatures or important piles of stone.

and it’s a good thing we get all of this help. in california, and san francisco in particular, democracy is in full bloom, with a full spectrum of offerings on which your vote is desperately desired:

  • US house of representatives
  • governor
  • lieutenant governor
  • secretary of state
  • attorney general
  • controller
  • treasurer
  • insurance commissioner
  • state superintendent of public instruction
  • board of equalization
  • california state senate
  • california state assembly
  • numerous state judicial seats
  • 7 state ballot measures
  • 20 local ballot measures (sorry non-Bay-Area readers, only Bay Area residents are this blessed…)
  • SF board of supervisors
  • BART board
  • SF community college board
  • SF board of education
  • SF superior court judge
  • SF assessor-recorder

fortunately, you get a voter’s information booklet, along with the aforementioned philanthropic assistance, to help sort all of this out. sure, it’s 240 pages long (i wish i was kidding), but it’s a riveting read, one might even say a real “page turner”. never mind that you might not even know what the people in those respective public offices do…that’s an auxiliary concern.

(excuse me while i put on my serious hat)

i spent at least four hours trying to read through all of the ballot measures, candidates statements, and miscellaneous propaganda that got dumped in my mailbox or on my doorstep. i listened to debates on the local public radio station. i did my best to be informed. and at the end of the day, i found myself exhausted by the rhetoric, posturing, and corruption that seems to be the lifeblood of the american political process.

at the end of it all, i found myself voting party lines, making educated guesses on some propositions, following the recommendations of trusted organizations and groups on others, and abstaining on those measures that seemed nice on the surface, but purely political once you scratched off the gilt.

suffice it to say that i didn’t feel the power of democracy coursing through my veins when i cast my vote(s).
it’s not supposed to be this way. i like to think it all starts out with well-intentioned people and efforts to make our country, and hopefully the world, a better place, but in the end it gets perverted into this monstrosity.

and don’t get me wrong – after all of this, i still believe that voting is critical, one of the most important things we can do as citizens. after all, why would i spend four hours reading a voter information booklet and scouring the Web to find out things like the rules imposed by the Ellis Act, and how they might be in conflict with a measure regarding condominium subdivision regulations?

people wonder why voter apathy is so high in the US. i’m not sure myself, but i suspect it may have something to do with the fact that in many cases, we simply can’t decide what to vote for, and we get tired trying to listen to (or tune out) all the people trying to help us make the right choice.

sometimes, i wish i could just vote “maybe,” because that’s how i really feel…

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