Want Privacy? Visit Polling Places on June 6

by Randy Shaw on May 31, 2006

As the June 6 election approaches, the lack of excitement is palpable. San Francisco’s Department of Elections has such a blasé attitude that it delayed mailing its Voter Information Guides so that many voters did not receive them until this week. This is long after absentee ballots arrived and a majority of absentee votes likely cast. The two main factors in generating voter turnout—critical races and a well-oiled get out the vote operation—are both absent this election. Democrats are more focused on beating Schwarzenegger than on choosing between Angelides and Westly, and the Ma-Reilly and Yee-Nevin races have generated harsh press releases but little grassroots passion. Progressives have done well in low-turnout races in the past, but this will not likely be the case next week.

After handing Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Republican Party a crushing blow last November, progressives needed a break this election cycle. They got it when a state anti-gay marriage initiative slated for June failed to qualify, switching what would have been a huge San Francisco voter turnout to the lackluster turnout expected next week.

With two contested state legislative races on San Francisco’s more conservative Westside, it is not rocket science to conclude that voter turnout will be higher there. Meanwhile, this looks like one of those elections where you can walk through the Tenderloin or Bayview-Hunters Point and see vacant polling places and little or no evidence of electoral activity.

The Ma-Reilly Assembly race will not drive turnout because neither candidate has a passionate supporter base. In addition, while there are great differences between the candidates, it is not as if any important state legislation hangs in the balance as a result of who wins. The contest is primarily a proxy fight among campaign consultants and politician endorsers.

I’ll offer my pick in this race and others next Monday, but this Assembly contest is not a hot topic of conversation at office water coolers.

If the Nevin-Yee State Senate drives turnout, it will be in San Mateo County, not San Francisco. This race pits two candidates whose views are far more similar than in the Assembly race, and is even more of a proxy fight for bragging rights among the political class.

The Nevin-Yee race helps explain why people hate politics. Based on their press releases and mailers, both are tools of corporate interests who will say whatever is necessary to get someone’s vote. This is not a good way to get people rushing to the polls.

A popular theory is that San Francisco’s Asian-American voter turnout will be relatively higher on June 6 with both Ma and Yee on the ballot. But many Asian-American voters are not Democrats, and the majority of voters in the State Senate race live in San Mateo. So while Westside voting totals will not decline from the norm as much as other San Francisco neighborhoods, do not expect lines at the polls in the Sunset or Richmond next Tuesday.

The best evidence that many local politicos are taking the June election off is that there are only four local initiatives on the San Francisco ballot. Four! In a city that often has nearly as many measures as the alphabet, next Tuesday we only have A through D.

And only two of these four, Props B and D, are likely to motivate voting. Prop B, the eviction disclosure measure, could increase tenant turnout though the lack of organized opposition has taken the initiative out of the limelight. Prop D, which regulates admission policies at Laguna Honda, was supposed to be a galvanizing issue for Westside voters. The initiative is going to be killed on the Eastside, but few people in these neighborhoods are going to trek to the polls primarily to defeat Prop D.

Prop A, the anti-violence initiative, is so non-controversial that it is even endorsed by the San Francisco Chronicle. And Prop C, the Transbay Terminal initiative that has given the Committee on Jobs an excuse to fund mailers and street signs attacking Supervisor Chris Daly, is too esoteric to generate voter turnout.

The sheer number of candidates running for the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee may boost overall turnout. If the friends, family and co-workers of these dozens of candidates all vote, a historic low in San Francisco voting may not be reached.

Since San Francisco is a heavily Democratic city, many believed that the contested primary for Governor would ensure a strong June turnout. But as occurred in 1998, the Democratic gubernatorial primary does not get people to the polls.

The reason goes beyond the candidates. Rather, organized labor does not fully mobilize its get out the vote operation during primaries, and there is no alternative voter outreach vehicle. Individual campaigns rarely succeed in assembling the necessary troops, so the dinner time phone calls and knocks on the door that can increase voter turnout by 5-10% do not occur.

Angelides’ union backers are making an effort to remind their members to vote, and his supporters have long argued that the core Democrats that comprise his chief base will be voting on June 6. This would mean a higher than projected turnout in San Francisco and, if replicated across the state, a likely Angelides victory.

But the overall state ballot is so dull that even core Democrats, as well as progressive-minded Independents and Greens, might simply not bother going to the polls. This particularly bodes ill for the already at risk Prop 82, the pre-school education measure funded by raising taxes on the wealthy.

The corporate-backed No on 82 has waged one of the most deceitful, lying, and reactionary campaigns seen in years—and it will prevail. The chief reason is the anticipated statewide low voter turnout, which will tilt California’s vote to the right.

The media contributed mightily to Prop 82’s problems, providing reams of free publicity to the No campaign’s attack on Rob Reiner. Reiner followed the advice of childhood education experts in conceiving Prop 82, spent millions of dollars in personal money to help pass the measure, and was rewarded by being subjected to unfair personal attacks that media outlets—most of whom oppose Prop 82—widely publicized.

If you ever wonder why more wealthy people do not put their money into ballot measures for social and economic justice, look what happened to Rob Reiner. And if you wonder why people will not be voting on June 6, examine the nastiness of so many of the campaigns and the cynicism toward politics that such efforts inspire.

Send feedback to rshaw@beyondchron.org

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