Thursday, September 16, 2010

Voting in a strange land

Tuesday was the MA primary election. This feels remarkably late for me since the CA primary was in June. With a primary in September the general election campaign season is necessarily short.

Anyhow, I had an observation about voting in MA: I don’t like it. No really, this is not just the whiny Californian feeling like MA still isn’t home, it’s more than that. Prior to the election we got mail from one candidate in one primary race. No info from other candidates. And more importantly, no info from the state. I find the later high problematic and disturbing. The state should be doing more to ensure people know that there’s an election approaching, when it is, where your polling place is, how to get an absentee ballot, and what’s on the ballot.

In California of course, this is done in extreme form: Significantly before the election you receive a sample ballot that also tells you the location of your polling place and has a form for applying for an absentee ballot. Closer to the election you receive a complete Voter’s Guide. In the Guide there are official statements from each candidate. For ballot propositions there is a summary of the proposition, analysis of its legal and fiscal effects by the state legislative analyst, and statements from both sides of the issue (the Yes and No campaigns).

I’m not suggesting MA needs to go to the same level, but it is currently at the opposite extreme. Yes, much of the voter guide type info could be on a website. But there should still be at a very minimum direct mail to the voters saying the date of the election, and giving the URL of the website to go to for more information (this could be a post card). In my opinion, it should also be personalized enough to also tell you on the mailing where your polling location is (which is fairly easy to do). Sure, as a native Californian I’d prefer to see an actual sample ballot even if a more extensive voter guide (which as far as I can tell doesn’t exist in MA) were available only online, but even if you don’t receive a sample ballot, you should be told when and where to vote and where to find out what’s on the ballot. How can we expect hope for an even minimally informed electorate when they don’t even know there’s an election happening?