From time to time I’ll visit a bakery and see the “orphan” order on sale. Why was the cake ready to proclaim “Happy Birthday Jesse” never picked up? I pause briefly to ponder what circumstance led that family to abruptly change plans.
In recent years California voters placed not one but two “special orders” to change how our elections are run. June 5, 2012 is the first statewide election where big changes go into effect about who, where and how candidates get chosen. Will voters realize that this primary is the election they designed? That they asked for? The voters I’ve been talking to have not yet connected the dots to know that this is their election.
Frustrated with “politics as usual,” in 2008 voters adopted Prop 11 which shifted who had the responsibility of deciding how to split the state’s population into election districts. A new process driven by a citizen’s commission replaced the old system of elected officials drawing their own election districts. Last year the citizens redistricting commission used 2010 census data to finalize a new set of maps for state senate, assembly and congressional districts. Your districts have changed which may change who you’ll be voting for. It’s interesting to note that a referendum to overturn the Senate maps from the new system has qualified for the November 2012 ballot.
The second change affecting this election is the “Top Two” primary approved by state voters in 2010. You can see the official Secretary of State description of how our congressional and state legislative representatives are now “voter-nominated” instead of party nominated. The premise of this reform is that candidates who have to appeal to all voters, rather than to ideological extremes in their political party, when elected will be more likely to work together on broadly shared priorities. But it also leads to surprising changes such as why are there all of a sudden 24 candidates for U.S. Senator on our ballots? And what is this rumor that two candidates from the same party may run against each other in November? As a long time voter educator, I know the primary process has always been a point of confusion for many people so they pass and just wait for November. Adding to the confusion, the process for how we pick Presidential candidates has stayed the same.
The good news is that this election can be explained in lay terms and we can spread the word to get more people to participate. I had the opportunity to work with the community members who edit the nonpartisan Easy Voter Guide, a project of the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund with support from the California State Library. They came up with a simple table to explain the changes:
If you like what you see, download the whole Easy Voter Guide in English, Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean that also has short descriptions of the two ballot measures and handy tips about the voting process. Other nonpartisan resources for this election:
Wouldn’t it be great if we had higher than anticipated turnout for this election? Then we could see how these reforms actually work when used as planned – especially before we are asked to change the changes.