A Massive Ballot! Huge Lines! Prepare for Infinite Vote

One of the lines in Downtown Los Angeles during the 2008 presidential election. With Donald vs. Hillary and a phone-book sized ballot, the waits could be even longer this year. 

DTLA - I’ve never read the 1,200-plus-page War & Peace, but already I’m steeling myself for an experience that could drag on similarly.

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I’m talking about surviving voting in November. If you haven’t been paying attention, the ballot is shaping up to be a monster, with a seemingly endless lineup of federal, state, county and city elections, measures and propositions. Maybe a Russian novel from 1869 isn’t the right touchstone, and instead we need a more contemporary and domestic comparison. To paraphrase David Foster Wallace, get ready for Infinite Vote.

Gearing Up for L.A.'s Worst Election Ever

Should we really worry today about what we’ll experience on Tuesday, Nov. 8? Absolutely, because the book-length ballot will almost certainly coincide with a turnout tidal wave spurred by the desire to vote against or for Donald Trump. This won’t be anything like the normal two-minute affair where you show up at a polling station that feels like a mausoleum, a poll worker squints at your sample ballot and searches for your name in a Byzantine book, you scrawl your signature upside-down, then you Inkavote and get your sticker.

Instead, the election will generate lines like Black Friday outside of Best Buy, though there’s no $149 plasma screen TV as a reward for your perseverance. It’ll be exciting for a minute, then will feel like waiting for a delayed plane at LAX. You’ll stand around, asking yourself whether it’s okay to leave or whether you should stand around some more and do your civic duty. You’ll remind yourself that we live in a democracy, and that voting and fair elections are things that people in North Korea and Florida can only dream about.

Will it really be this bad? If history is a precedent, then probably, yes. In 2008, the exciting presence of Barack Obama on the presidential ballot prompted more than 3 million people in L.A. County to vote, with a turnout of 82%, according to the “Post Election Report” from Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan. It was the biggest showing in four decades.

As weird as it sounds, when it comes to ballot excitement, Trump is the new Obama, and with The Donald having survived Cleveland last week, it’s easy to foresee a similar or even larger turnout.

Feed the Beast

Turnout is one thing. A mile-long ballot is another thing entirely, and the more time you spend inside the cardboard cubicle trying to make sure that your “pen” actually fills the circle with ink, the more other people will wait.

One problem is that, like the plant Audrey 2 in Little Shop of Horrors, people just keep feeding the beastly ballot. As of last week, 17 measures had qualified for the state election (more on those below), according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s website. Los Angeles city and county officials can’t stop adding items.

This is where things get strange. Elected officials know the danger of putting too many items on the ballot. Cross the invisible line where people get bored, confused or annoyed, goes the thinking, and they’ll basically turn into a voting 2-year-old and just say “No” to everything and demand a juice box. This becomes critical on tax measures that require the approval of two-thirds of the electorate.

Elected officials also know that the odds of passing a tax or bond item increase when there is a heavy liberal turnout. With Californians as a whole and Angelenos particularly likely to be pro-Hillary, everyone wants to get tax-and-spend matters before a swarm of Democrats.

Ballot backers usually do extensive polling, and it is likely that everything that appears in November will have generated some kind of support. But then there’s the big question: Will that support still exist when the ask is not money for one item, but money for a gazillion items?

In a way, it’s like a bunch of politicians spending hours at a bar. They know the last drink/next proposition after so many before is a lousy idea, but it’s too hard to resist. “Hey,” goes the thinking, “one more can’t hurt. Can it?”

For Your Consideration

People like picking a president and generally believe their vote is important, even if this is California and the state’s 55 electoral college votes have already been stamped for Crooked Hillary (joking!). Pretty much everyone smiles at the top of the ballot.

California voters in November will also get to officially make Kamala Harris a senator (Loretta Sanchez’s effort is valiant, but she doesn’t have the horses to win), and then comes the House of Representatives, where everyone in Los Angeles pretty much picks the incumbent. This stuff goes over easy.

People wade through state assembly and senate contests, and often there are elections for things like judgeships or a board of equalization. In these cases 98% of the voters have no idea who anyone is, so they pick the guy or gal already in office or the name they like best.

Ultimately, voters reach the statewide propositions, and here’s where eyes will gloss over. Padilla’s website lists the 17 thingies (not the official name) that have already qualified for the ballot, and it’s a doozy.

In Proposition 51, voters will be asked to approve $9 billion in bonds for K-12 schools and community college facilities. Prop 56 seeks a $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes, with proceeds going to healthcare programs. Pass this and the price for a pack of smokes will be, I think, $216.

That’s just a sampling. Prop 61 concerns prescription drug pricing, marijuana legalization arrives with Prop 64, and we weigh in on large-scale ammunition magazines in Prop 63. Prop 66 concerns the death penalty, and in Proposition 60 we the people decide if those who have sex for a living on camera should be required to wear condoms when, uh, performing.

Yes, sex, drugs, smoking, death and guns are coming to you not in a Tarantino film, but on November’s ballot.

Exhausted yet? Too bad, because you’ve also got the local stuff, and here’s where the big money is. It starts with a proposed half-cent sales tax that would last forever (seriously, it’s got a “no sunset” provision) and raise an estimated $120 billion for Metropolitan Transportation Authority projects. It requires the approval of two-thirds of voters, and follows a similar attempt in 2012 that narrowly failed.

If you like those apples, then there’s lots more apples! The city wants voters to approve a $1.2 billion bond to build housing for the homeless. Speaking of the homeless, the county plans to ask for a tax on marijuana sales to raise up to $130 million annually to provide services for those living on the streets. Another county measure seeks to raise $95 million a year for park projects.

Ask anyone about any one of those matters, particularly the Metro measure, and they’ll likely agree it’s a good idea — many people are willing to sacrifice, and even tax themselves, to help society at large. But what happens when you ask them to approve all of those at once, after they have already spent 3 1/2 hours at the polling place?

I’m not saying everything will fail, but I am saying, for those behind the myriad measures and propositions, good luck — you’re going to need it, and it might be wise to save some of these for another day.

For everyone else, I’m saying, bring a book on election day. You might even try War & Peace. There’s a good chance you’ll finish it while waiting in line.


© Los Angeles Downtown News 2016