Category Archives: Politics of Political Reform

Case Study: How The Gaming of the Electoral Process Doesn’t Work AKA Why Gavin’s Smiling Despite, Well, You Know…

It’s May 1st, also known as May Day. For some this means a celebration of spring – to some self-styled urban revolutionaires it means a Day To Pretend We’re In Solidarity With The Workers Who Make Our T Shirts. I thought it a perfect day to mark something else – the total failure of a small group of people to “game” the electoral system to change the results in San Francisco.
We’ve had to endure endless caterwauling about all sorts of gimmicks that were promised to “change” the results and thus make them more “fair.” Let’s go down the list, shall we?

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Wasting Time With IRV on the San Francisco Ballot

I got my mail ballot last week and sat down to slog through pages and pages of voter guides, local ballot measures, state ballot measures, and candidates. Voting this season is less about voting for people you’d actually want to serve in office, and more about keeping really bad eggs off the shelf. Same goes for the initatives.
The funniest part of my ballot, however, was San Francisco’s allegedly fair and democratic “Instant Runoff System” in action. Candidates for San Francisco College Board and School Board, all of whom run city-wide, are still elected under a “vote for 3 candidates out of a list” system that according to self-appointed reformers is the result of Satan’s handiwork.
Do remember under the Satan system, if you really want someone to win, you can cast one vote for one candidate and leave off the other two choices – it has the effect of helping them out more. So if you really like someone such as Jane Kim, you could cast one vote for her, and forget the rest. It’s weird how it works, but it does – hence the term “bullet voting.”
“Bullet voting” aside, unless you’re living somewhere with a competitive Supervisorial race, your only chance to use the magical unicorns and fairies super happy Instant Runoff Voting promises you is in the race for Assessor, or the race for Public Defender.
Here’s where it gets fun. At significant expense, the city printed up special little ballots so you can mark your “first second and third choices” for these offices. Problem is, both candidates are running unopposed. And yet, there are three choices for me to fill out, and feel like the Magical Man from Happyland.
So, to make everyone feel good, I wrote in all sorts of great choices for my special one and only IRV election. Here’s how it went:
For Assessor:
1. Gaius Baltar
2. Laura Roslin
3. Phil Ting
For Public Defender
1. Sharon Agathon
2. Kara Thrace
3. Jeff Adachi
I have no doubt the incumbents will win, despite my efforts. But, they seem like good guys, so I’m sure their political careers aren’t ruined based on my use of magical IRV. I don’t feel the good vibes or see the point in all of it, but I guess the secrets as to why some people push this thing are to be learned later, when an election of importance gets stolen with this system.
Yeah, those are pretty nerdy choices. So what? Isn’t that the point of IRV? So that every crank can use the public’s bucks to make their point?

Case Study: Campaign “Reform” and Unintended Consequences in San Francisco’s District 6

For those of you just joining us, there’s a rather contentious battle in San Francisco’s Supervisorial District 6, where incumbent Supervisor Daly is running for re-election. The campaign is already getting quite heated, as some people in Our Fair City are not fans of Mr. Daly and his effectiveness as a legislator getting laws passed based on the platform he clearly enuniciated as a candidate (with 83% of the vote) in 2000. Ultimately, it will be the voters who will decide if Mr. Daly should continue to serve in office.
The race also offers a case study in the Law of Unintended Consequences with regards to “political reform” that is peddled by incumbents and assorted hangers-on who try to “game” the system to get the results they like – and how such “gaming” ends up causing more problems for candidates and the voters who are being asked to decide who should represent them in office.
It was laughable to see the Bay Guardian’s complaint-atorial today, bemoaning the rise of independent expenditure committees which are being funded to oppose Mr. Daly’s re-election, citing in particular the fact he is limited by law to spending only $83,000 on his own race, while a host of independent committees (all of whom have the same name but are numbered 1-6 to maximize their effect) can spend what they like.
Why the comedy? Because it was the Bay Guardian that unequivocally supported the limits and laws that are now limiting Mr. Daly’s ability to respond to campaign attacks!
That’s the funny part. The not-so-funny part is when the Guardian asks the Board of Supervisors to immediately amend the law so that this “can’t happen.” Now it’s time to take a large Wait A Minute and Think pill, before more new laws (and more unintended consequences) result.
That’s because the folks who are opposing Mr. Daly aren’t really doing anything wrong per se. Super-nasty campaigns are never pleasant to watch, and to be sure, the folks who oppose Mr. Daly would seem to have a visceral hatred for the man, almost more than the leftiest lefty who hates Our President. That said, these folks took a look at the laws “as is” and have a smart attorney who found perfectly legal ways to operate within the system to do what it is they feel they need to do to get their message out.

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Yes on Proposition 89 A.K.A. The Political Hack Full Employment Act of 2006

Everyone’s been asking me if I’m supporting the so-called Clean Money Proposition 89 given my past views on political reform, and experience in campaign finance. I always say, without skipping a beat, that I support this proposition with no reservations at all.
Now that’s the “loud: part. The “quiet” part is “But not for the reasons the authors and supporters intend, since I just want a full employment act for political hacks.” Waitaminit! Did I say the loud part quiet and the quiet part loud? D’oh!
No really, listen! Now, of course the inevitable fight between Sort Of Funded Good People and the representatives of the Forces of Doom With More Money will wage some sort of battle. The state’s Big Important Paper will weigh in, as will its fine columnists on the relative merits. And they’ll all be as fun to read about as that whole debate over the Paint Drying On A Hot Day initiative.
That is, if the public is even reading. (No one seems to realize Stargate SG-1 is back on the air, and Lost and Battlestar Galactica and a ton of movies are coming out this fall. Do Cylons dream of electric political reform bills?)
Whee! Now, the funny thing about these kinds of initiatives is that they’re taking a hybrid idea from other states (Maine, Arizona, Massachusetts) and declaring that Their Way Is The Only Way to “clean up” politics. As I’ve said time and again, these reform efforts usually have more to do with gutting The Other Guys’ say in politics, coupled with a naive hope that the outcome of the people’s votes can be gamed to favor Their Guys. (IRV Minions, I’m looking at you….)
But let’s put aside the many Unintended Consequences we’ll be paving the Road to Hell with, and find out why I’m supporting this wild proposition. It’s simple – any time you have a system of matching funds, public funding, whatever, you change the marketplace for political products. Instead of lopsided spending by The Guy With All The Support and The Guy With No Money or Hope In Hell, thus creating a single marketplace in a given district for product, suddenly we’ll have more customers for the same products!
Think about it. Every robocall vendor, every direct mail vendor, heck every button-maker and tchotchke maker from Yreka to the Mexican Border will suddenly have lots of new people to sell stuff too. Every political hack that wants to avoid law school for another year can instead take a year off and work on the campaign of any Joe Sixpack or Sally Hempcoat running for office anywhere in the state – no matter how hopeless it is for a hippie socialist to win in “The OC” or a right wing neo-fascist to win in Berkeley, CA!
JobCorps, SchmobCorps, if politicians want to create more jobs right away, they’ll jump on board. It’s easy, and the taxpayers foot the bill!
Sure, there’s that whole issue with that pesky Constitution of the United States, and sure there’s also no guarantee that experienced people who do things as they’re done now will suddenly lose and give way to the wide-eyed hopeful dreamers who want to pass that whole “No Kitten Left Behind” bill that gets stalled in committee by the special interests, but I say, who cares?
There are a lot of robocalls and brochures I need to sell if I’m ever going to get enough money to go into real estate or the olive oil business. So quit your bitchin’ and say “Yes” to Proposition 89. I am sure my future kids will thank you when they’re getting braces, iPods, and Harvard educations. I know I will!
Pardon the gap in postings. Unlike professional bloggers who sideline as consultants, I, as a consultant who sidelines as a blogger, sometimes have to do real work during an election! More fun is coming soon though. Really!

California Primary 2006: The Death Rattle of So-Called “Reform”

Wasn’t that just a wonderful primary election?
We had the a record low voter turnout statewide, and we had a record number of mail ballots that were held until the last minute, simply because people either didn’t know who to vote for, or who to vote against. We had some of the nastiest campaigns, funded by all sorts of well funded interests, and Democrats in particular are left with a slate of candidates most people still don’t know a lot about, at a time when we’re facing Real Problems.
Whose fault is it? Oh, it depends on who you ask. It’s the Democrats’ fault. It’s the Republicans’ fault. It’s the consultants’ fault. It’s the special interest groups’ fault. It’s the fault of people who wear those rectangle glasses. It’s the fault of someone’s husband. It’s the “progressives'” fault. It’s the “conservatives'” fault. It’s the know-it-all bloggers’ fault. It’s the fault of Someone Else.
Oh, and don’t forget it’s Money’s Fault. Bet you didn’t know inanimate representations of currency could be at fault. But to some it is.
“So,” you ask, “whose fault is it really?” you ask. Good question – thanks for asking!
It would be easy for me to take the Official Snarky Knowitall Position that it’s everyone I just mentioned’s fault but that would be a bit too easy, and a bit overdone. Instead I’m going to suggest another idea: that we in California had a Perfect Storm of Unintended Consequences, from all the so-called “reforms” that self-styled “reformers” have pushed on us for the last several decades.

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Straight Talk On So-Called “Instant Runoff Voting” or Why the “Cure” Is as Deadly as the “Disease”

Apparently someone at the LA Times Blog linked to this 3-year old article. You can see my response to the shenanigans here. For the record, in 2005 people were often using the terms “IRV” and “RCV” interchangeably, I guess since then people have settled on RCV. Whatever.
If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium, and if it’s runoff season, then it must be  time for Self Appointed Prophet Steven Hill of the “Center for Voting and Democracy” to be pimping the reform du jour of so-called “progressives” to “fix” our “elections” – the so-called “reform” of Instant Runoff Voting.
You can read his latest sales pitch in the Los Angeles Times for the most recent iteration of the ongoing drive to push “IRV.” (or whatever it is they want to call it these days).
Just don’t expect much debate – most people aren’t interested in a real discussion of the issue. Proponents have a Stalin-like objection to any discussion that does not sing the system’s hosannas in high tones, whereas opponents frankly don’t care, since they consider it something that belongs in the “tin hat crowd” file at the newspaper.
Having actually worked on a campaign in 2004 in San Francisco under said voting system, I’m taking a moment to write a column that I should have written in 2004, that gives you, the citizen, some straight talk on this issue.
I’m not ideologically invested in IRV one way or the other – instead I’m just someone who saw the real-world effects of a change to the election process. So, let’s take some of the basic assumptions of Prophet of Truth Hill’s piece and put them to the test.
We start with an oh-so-typical whining about the State of Affairs Our Election is In, the kind I took to task last week. It’s a great segue into the sales pitch. But it also misses a lot about the specific political history of Los Angeles as well. Perhaps such subtleties are worth papering over in pursuit of The One True Way.
Now, let’s pick apart the arguments and find a little truth, shall we?
Myth: San Francisco has an Instant Runoff System in Place
Put away that pillow, this isn’t devolving into BuzzwordSpeak just yet. Really.
Mr. Hill makes the argument that San Francisco has an Instant Runoff System. In fact it does not. They had to change the name to “Ranked Choice Voting” because, in the rush to implement the law, regardless of things like, oh I don’t know, the Constitution, they couldn’t implement a true IRV system. What’s the difference?
Well it’s simple. In a true “Instant Runoff Voting” system, you’d have a list of all the candidates for a particular office, and you’d rank each one according to preference. If there were, say, 15 candidates, you’d rank each candidate from 1 (the one you like, and want to win) to 15 (the one you like the least). Kind of like rating a song or something on the radio.
They count all the ballots, and if no one gets 50% +1, they cull out the lowest vote getter, look at the 2nd place votes those voters placed ,and keep counting until they get a winner.
The Big Idea is that if you voted for a dud, you still can have a voice in the outcome, since your 2nd, 3rd, or 11th choice could get counted. Blah blah blah. (For more detailed discussion of the system, read some of the articles I wrote last year during the election).
San Francisco does not do this. Instead, you only get to pick a “top three” – you pick the one you like best, your “2nd choice” and your “3rd choice.” If there’s 3 candidates , you rank all three (if you want). If there’s 20 (like there were in the race I worked on) you rank….3.
This is a critical difference, one that bears some examination. The article in the L.A. Times states that San Francisco has an IRV system, when it doesn’t. There’s a big difference in the effect it has on how people vote, and on the results therein. So when we read a piece in the L.A. Times  that asserts something that simply isn’t the case, it’s time to turn on our BS Microscope on said editorial.
Myth: Elections are too expensive. We need IRV to “save money” and avoid these runoff elections
This is possibly the most cynical, and the most dangerous argument I have heard for any election system, IRV or not. To me, a sound, safe, fair, and honest election system is the bedrock of any democracy. To try and do it “on the cheap” just because some limousine liberals (or whoever) have somehow deemed elections are “expensive” is bogus.
I don’t care if it costs the US Government a bazillion dollars to ensure our votes are fairly counted and administered. We spent a ton of money to ensure Iraqis have democracy – why the hell should we be pinching pennies here at home? People fought and died for our freedom in wars – why would we dishonor them by saying that we need to cut a few pennies off the voting process so we can fund more tax breaks for corporations, or other special interest groups?
I don’t think that the Republic is doomed, financially by having runoff elections. And let’s face facts – when have you ever heard a liberal make an argument about saving money? Rarely. So this is a red herring that I discard almost immediately. People paid for democracy for their lives – it’s priceless, and to try and play penny-pinching with our voting is just plain wrong.
Myth: People will run positive campaigns, because if they run campaigns that say bad things about their opponents, the supporters of Said Opponents will retaliate by not voting for them
The biggest lie in the IRV sales pitch. While it is true that this was an assumption many people chose to live by during the 2004 elections, it was based entirely on supposition and belief, not on the political culture and tradition most people make their decisions on.
In fact, all the candidates who engaged in all sorts of cutsey “buddy buddy” election gimmicks, such as holding joint fundraisers for the same office, or putting out mail pieces jointly paid for by more than one candidate, all got their asses kicked (my client included).
There is absolutely no empirical evidence at all that voters who support one particular fringe candidate, upon seeing a negative attack on said candidate by another, all as a block say “Oh, goodness I shan’t vote for that candidate who made such a naughty attack mailer!”.
In fact, most people don’t think or vote that way at all. More importantly, unless candidates specifically tell in their literature who they believe should be people’s 2nd and 3rd (or however many) choices on the ballot, most people fill the ballot out at random, or base it on criterion that have nothing to do with how the election was conducted.
More to the point, it’s wishful thinking on the part of lesser candidates to think they’ll have any real impact on the election if they don’t somehow quantify how they are “helping” front runners.
During the 2004 election, I discovered that San Francisco election law had a peculiarly foolish hole that forbade candidates from saying whom they supported for those 2nd and 3rd choice spots in paid media, yet did not do so when they spoke in person. I fought the Ethics Commission to develop new rules that would allow for us to do so on the campaign I worked on.
Now, you’d think that for doing so I’d get a big “thank you” from the Prophet of Truth who came up with this great idea. Instead, I was subjected to a screaming attack over the phone from Steven Hill for my efforts, followed by slanderous comments from him to my client. Class act, these ideologues. Watch how fast I rush to defend this system in the future.
More to the point, the eventual winner in all the races was the person who got the most votes on Election Day and all the bullshit scenarios whittled by consultants and others who somehow thought they could run a half-assed campaign and still win were out the door.
We all learned that night that if you want to win under IRV you need to kick ass and take names early and often – and endorsing groups figured that out too.
They didn’t bother with 2nd or 3rd place endorsements – they pushed aside such thoughts and went for the people with…the most money, the most endorsements, and the most volunteers earlier than usual, and stuck with them.
In our race, now-Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi was so far ahead of 2nd place finisher Robert Haaland, there was no way in Hell Robert was going to catch up to Ross, even if by some act of (God, Buddha, SpongeBob, whatever) every single 2nd and 3rd place pick of folks went to him (which it did not).
So after all the hassle, the talk, and the screaming matches on the phone, San Francisco saw results no different than if they’d’ just done things the Same Old Way.
Wait. That’s not true. In San Francisco’s 7th District, a weak appointed incumbent saw a better than expected challenger in candidate Christine Linnenbach.
Had they both gone to a one-on-one runoff, it is likely Linnenbach might have won. But under IRV, we never got the chance for a face-off that would have offered voters a clear choice, instead of one muddled by fringe candidates.
Other than that election, nothing changed. The one race where IRV “helped” end an “expensive” runoff and we ended up with a status quo appointed incumbent who outspent his rival 7-1. Whee! Can I sign up for this in my neighborhood?
Not a great endorsement of the system, which is always pitched to people who ca’nt win under our current system (usually “progressives”) as a cure, even though there’s no evidence it would do anything but strengthen the hand of strong candidates.
There is a legitimate discussion that should be held to figure out ways to ensure that all voices are accounted for and that our nation leads the way in providing citizens ways to express themselves in the electoral process. If we are to truly be in the vanguard of freedom, stifiling such a discussion at home when we amplifiy it abroad is hypocritical.
That said, we should also be wary of “solutions” that are packaged as the One True Answer to our problems, without putting said “solutions” through the intellectual wringer.
That may not fit the grand designes of Self Appointed Prophets. But we as citizens have not lost our right to speak out just yet, and should do so to ensure an honest discussion of many ways of voting, not just the ones that are designed to help one  side vs. another.
In the meantime, spare me the “IRV me ASAP” rhetoric. And pass me a Schlitz.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

Random Weekend Thoughts on “Messaging” and Alternative Views on Redistricting

Well, it looks like barring some strange alignment of the planets. Dr. Howard Dean will take over as chair of the Democratic National Committee. The highest profile camapign for a job most people have no idea even exists, much less know what it does, has ended.
It should make for an interesting time – now that the talking’s done, it’s time to start doing something. Fast. Laundry lists of promises are fine, but it’s action that wins elections.
There’s lots of talk about “messaging.” A lot of talk. During the race for DNC chair, I think I lost count of how many times I heard “messaging.” Personally I hate it when nouns are verbified like this, butchering the language. Remember when the Boomers started calling it “parenting”? Does this mean by using the word one negates the meaning itself> Oh, I digress.
Much chatter was started when Washington Monthly posted a copy of the Labour Party’s new platform, which fits neatly on a nice little card you can see here:

It’s a point well taken, and hey – printing up about a zillion of these things would be easy and be a money maker for sure.  But aside from all of the chatter and noise about The Best Strategy To Win, and endless patter about “messaging,” one wonders if perhaps all the discussions and arguments and blogging, and meeting is missing a bigger point.
That is, part of the problem Democratic political fortunes face is the fact that, as a party that’s been out of power for a good long time now (ten years out of Congress, even longer in the judiciary), “messaging” problems pale in comparison to “governing” problems. And “power” problems.
We are facing the formation of a one-party state in this country, with the full force of the three branches of government to support and develop that one party. Clever phrases turned at a debate, or neat looking mailers, are only a part of the problem. The bigger one is the fact that as changes in the budget process move on, Democratic elected officials simply aren’t involved at the centers of power in Washington.
Too many aging politicians who still get re-elected due to “name i.d.” and their little piece of the money flowing around still act and react as if they are in charge of something. They’re not.
Because they don’t realize it, they react with horror at the idea of a Dr. Howard Dean, or a Gen. Wesley Clark, because it’s someone that they don’t “own” a piece of, and scares them. Never mind the fact that they haven’t been able to return to power, elite consultants and insider politicians and all.
When Republicans were out of power in Congress, they realized it, and acted as such until they were. Precious few of our elected leaders seem to realize this reality. Sen. Barbara Boxer is one who does. She realizes the only way she’s going to try and stop some of the insanity is to do what folks like Newt Gingrich and his allies did for years – toss political dynamite into the mix, and damn the torpedoes full speed ahead.
Anyway, something for the Doc and the New Kids On the Block (Committee?) to think about.
PS: Unlike some blogs around town, who can’t stand to have any dissenting views on their site, I’m posting a link to consider another side to the issue of gerrymandering and redistricting. As I’ve said before, many times these districts are drawn to benefit a particular single individual already in office, regardless of party, and that tends to dampen enthusiasm, or interest in the election.
We will see something on the ballot, maybe several “somethings” by the time the army of signature gatherers get through with us. Recently the San Francisco Chronicle posted an op-ed piece on the issue that brought up something I’d not really considered before – that in some cases, trying to draw a district as a “swing district” may be physically impossible, given the way population and demographics have changed in the past twenty years.
Thus, a proposal that tries to legislate political outcomes is almost worse than what we have now. As we’ve seen before, when The People Who Know Best are running things, usually they’re paid for by a large donation from corporate coffers. Caveat Emptor, gang.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

Crusader Update: No Final Ruling from the Ethics Commission

Loyal readers will recall that a mini-crusade started by me earlier this month began to take a life of its own when the New York Times picked up on the story, a tale of rules, ethics, and common sense in a time of change.
Savannah Blackwell’s latest column has an update including coverage of the Ethics Commission meeting last night, which gave us no final ruling on the issue at hand – that rules governing campaign conduct haven’t been updated to account for the new realities of Ranked Choice Voting.
Until then, we’re going forth with our campaign, determined to strike a blow for freedom of speech and cooperative campaigning. We probably won’t get a final ruling anytime soon – stay tuned!
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

Quick Hit- We Made the New York Times

Loyal readers will recall a mini-crusade started earlier this month, when I noticed many of San Francisco’s elections laws had not caught up to the realities of Ranked Choice Voting this year.
Not only is the Ethics Commission meeting on October 18th to discuss the issue, we made the New York Times today as well.
Onward and upward!
UPDATE: Apparently the San Francisco Ethics and Elections Commission has sent me a letter in response to my query, in advance of their meeting on Monday. However, a careful check of my mailbox indicates I have not received it yet (although if they sent it via First Class Mail it will most likely arrive tomorrow).
This is sizing up to be a slightly bigger drama than I’d anticipated. Still, no one seems to have gotten the joke I inserted in my hypothetical situation which I wanted a ruling on. Can you find it?
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

Paving the Road to Hell in Baghdad by the Bay

UPDATE: Read coverage at Savannah Blackwell’s column online which has new information from the SF Department of Elections regarding this issue. Looks like we may have made a difference on this one, gang!
The Road to Hell is not the only road paved with Good Intentions. The crazy-quilt of contradictory rules and regulations known as election “law” is paved with it too. How else to describe, or explain, how so many of these laws don’t make sense, or why every attempt to make things “better” ends up benefitting those with money and power, and disempowering anyone not on the inside.
There are many examples, big and small. Today, however, I’m going to share with you a medium-sized example that I’ve decided to take some direct action on in the hopes of illuminating the hazards of change when we don’t think it through. In this case, it’s the laws regulating campaign activity in San Francisco.
As I’ve indicated before, San Francisco is beginning a bold experiment in local elections using Ranked Choice Voting. (For a detailed explanation of the process, check out this excellent resource online).
More than one media report has commented on the new cooperative style of campaigning such a system allows. It’s definitely an interesting situation, one which no one really knows what the final outcome will be. We can make educated guesses, but that’s about it.
Today’s San Francisco Chronicle reports that many voters are still having a hard time adjusting to the new system, and realizing that they no longer just have one choice (i.e. who to vote for) but they now have the opportunity to indicate a “second” and “third” choice.
The city has spent a small amount of money doing some educational outreach, but it is becoming more and more clear it’s not enough. If this system is going to work, people need to know how to use it. Otherwise the point of spending the time and money to create and administer such a system will be wasted.
And now, the Road to Hell Paving Crew makes its appearance!
How so? Because no one thought to update election laws to accommodate the new system, specifically for the changes that have come about in how candidates are conducting themselves in their races for Supervisor, creating a situation that doesn’t allow candidates to fully engage the electorate under the new rules.
Whereas in the past, such elections were money-fueled death matches, with campaign conduct more like Mortal Kombat than anything resembling a civilized debate, now candidates are realizing that, if properly used, a ranked-choice voting system doesn’t reward such behavior.
Instead candidates are telling voters to not only support them for office, but to also support other candidates for the second and third spots on the ballot for the same office. Candidates are free to do so in public, when talking to a voter, and when speaking to the press or at a public debate.
The Paving Crew gets involved when a candidate tries to tell anyone that same information in a printed piece, a television ad, a radio ad, or a prepaid phone call. Currently, San Francisco law seems to indicate that such activity would be deemed “illegal” under current statute.
This makes no sense. Why would doing something be legal in once context, and totally illegal in another? More to the point, given that voters are clearly having trouble figuring out how to mark their ballots under the new system, why is the City preventing candidates from explaining the system and how to mark their ballots?
It didn’t make any sense to me, so I decided to take some action. While this would benefit the candidate I’ve been working with, progressive activist and leader Susan King, ultimately this isn’t about just helping “my” candidate or “my” side – it is about what makes the process fair to all, and about common sense.
I spoke with Mabel Ng, the director of San Francisco’s Ethics Commission and asked if it would be possible to indicate a candidate’s choice for second and third spot on the ballot in printed materials. Her answer, (which, as oral advice can’t be used as a shield should a campaign get into trouble), was “no”. However, she indicated that I should ask for a formal written ruling to best clarify the issue.
Today I sent off this letter to the Ethics Commission requesting a formal opinion on this issue. I’m hoping that by bringing this issue to the attention of the Ethics Commission, the City Attorney, and the District Attorney of San Francisco, that if nothing else, someone will acknowledge that we’ve got a situation where the rules regulating campaign conduct once again haven’t been updated to accommodate the new system voters approved in 2002.
In the grand scheme of things, this is not the biggest issue facing voters, elected officials and city bureaucrats. But it is important that the City at least acknowledge that it had two years to plan for this election and somehow managed to forget to take a look at existing election law and realize that some of those laws may not make as much sense as they do now.
In this case, not only is this restricting the First Amendment rights of candidates to indicate how they would want people to vote under this new system – it also denies them a chance to effectively explain to voters how this new system works. Given that there seems to be enough people confused by the system currently, why deny those putting themselves up for office a chance to help explain this to the voters on the candidate’s dime?
It’s time for those who call themselves “reformers” to spend the nickel, hire the Smart People, and start making laws that make sense for everybody. Right now no one’s interests are being served – except for the expensive lawyers and accountants one has to hire to avoid going to jail for elections law violations. It may be great for them – but ultimately it’s the public that loses in the end.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at