Well, it is almost here. The ‘special’ election that is anything but. A slew of statewide measures that “have to” pass, but probably won’t. Actually, one probably will, and it is the one that shouldn’t: 1F, which docks legislators’ pay during deficits–as though it was politicians’ personal, even venal, motivations that got us into this mess. Rather than, say, their electoral motivations and the constitution’s minority-veto constraints.
This is an election I would like to sit out. But under almost any scenario I can see, the consequences of defeat (especially of 1A) are far worse than this compromise package, negotiated by the Republican Governor, the Democratic legislative majorities, and the few Republican legislators who finally relented from their party’s no-deal-at-any-costs strategy. So duty calls me to the polls. Ugh.
The California Supreme Court has granted a hearing on the challenges to Prop 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Four of the seven justices voted with the majority in the original ruling overturning the state’s previous voter-enacted ban on same-sex marriage. Of these four, one voted against yesterday’s 6-1 decision to grant a review of the challenges to Prop. 8. In other words, of the six to vote to grant a review, half were in the previous ruling’s minority. That breakdown of the votes for further review is probably not good news to proponents of equal marriage rights. We won’t know till well into next year, as the hearing is scheduled for March.
Some signs suggest the State Supreme Court will grant a review of Proposition 8, which took away the right the same court granted earlier this year for same-sex couples of marry.
The case petitioners are seeking to argue before the court is that the proposition amounts to a “revision” rather than an “amendment” to the state constitution, because it strips a fundamental right. I am no legal scholar, so I won’t pretend to assess the legal value of that argument. However, with the decision so recent, and 4-3, and with California justices subject to periodic retention elections (and potentially subject to a recall-election petition), I would not put good money on their being willing to insist on their earlier decision and overturn the measure.
And then there will also be the legal question–if Prop. 8 is not overturned–of whether the marriages performed between the time of the Court’s ruling in spring and the fall election would remain valid.
Yet another interesting angle is that the state’s Attorney General, Jerry Brown, is a proponent of inclusive marriage rights, but his job title would require him to defend the state’s newly enacted constitutional amendment stripping that right if it comes before the court.
It is really hard to over-state just how uncompetitive California’s single-seat legislative districts are.
Here are some stats (calculated by me from the LA Times day-after report, so don’t consider them “official”):
State Assembly (80 districts)
68.59% mean winner’s share
7 (8.8%) uncontested (i.e.winner with 100%)
65.10% mean winner’s share in contested seats
12 (15.0%) won with 55% or less
1 won by less than 50%1
51 (63.4%) won by the Democrat
State delegation to US House (53 districts)
71.06% mean winner’s share
7 (13.2%) uncontested
66.77% mean winner’s share in contested seats
6 (11.3%) won with 55% or less
1 won by under 50%2
35 (66.04%) won by the Democrat
State Senate (20 of 40 districts up this year)
64.45% mean winner’s share
4 won with 55% or less
0 won with under 50% (but one at 50.02%)
12 (60%) won by the Democrat
That’s uncompetitive! And unrepresentative: I do not know what the Democrats’ statewide vote was–these sorts of things are largely secret in American democracy–but it wasn’t 66%, or even 60%.
With the outcome of Prop. 11, which would create an “independent” commission to redraw district lines for the Assembly and state Senate, still uncertain (but most likely approved), can anyone convincingly argue that it is possible for an “independent” commission to improve this situation significantly? I have my doubts…
Evidently the footnotes plug-in is not working well with the new Word Press software. Sometimes the footnotes do not appear at all. Sometimes they appear, but with “aa” for each footnote marker, instead of numbers. Sorry; I might be able to fix it–one of these days.
District 10, an open seat in the Sacramento area, apparently won by Republican Jack Sieglock (70,161 votes, 46.92%) over Democrat Allyson Huber (69,136 votes, 49.23%). Libertarian Janice Bonser won around 7%. This one has subsequently narrowed and is not yet called. [↩]
And two more with less than 50.1%. The one sub-majority winner would be in District 3 northeast of Sacramento, where Republican Dan Lungren was reelected (117,609 votes, 49%) over Democrat William Dunston (105,288, 44%). An independent won 4% and a Libertarian 2%. [↩]
California Proposition 1A on last week’s ballot passed, 52.2% to 47.8%. This measure allows the state to sell bonds to finance a high-speed rail system. Good news!
If one compares the map of counties in which the measure won or lost with the route map (cool graphics there!), one finds only a loose correlation. Sure, the measure won in the big population centers that would be connected by the rail system (those in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County). It also won in Kern and Fresno Counties (Bakersfield and Fresno, Central Valley population centers, would have stops), and a few other counties along the route. However, it much of the rest of the Central Valley (including the counties where Sacramento and Modesto, which would have stops, are located), while passing in some locales quite distant from the route (e.g. Mendocino, Monterey, and Santa Barbara). The biggest percentage win was in Modoc County, about as far from any proposed station as one could be and still be in the state. It lost, 52-48, here in San Diego County, which would be on an eventual extension (running close to Ladera Frutal!), but not the preliminary route.
Despite the passage of the bonds, this system is still a long way from being built. But it is a step in the right direction.
I thought I’d offer a little California presidential ballot trivia before the election recedes too far into our memories (and what memories those will be!).
I have noted before how we had such a strong field of minor-party candidates, based on purely objective criteria (name recognition, prior electoral experience, etc.). The field included two former congressmen (former Republican Bob Barr as the Libertarian candidate and former Democrat Cynthia McKinney as the Green candidate) as well as Ralph Nader (here as the Peace and Freedom Party candidate; in most states he is running as an independent).
I did not realize till a few days before the election that we also have Alan Keyes on the ballot. I don’t know if that makes the field stronger still or not, but Keyes certainly is well known. He has sought the Republican nomination in the past.
Further, this marks the second time Keyes and Obama have faced each other. Keyes was the Republican Party’s late “desperation” candidate drafted to run against Obama in his Senate bid in 2004.
Keyes is the candidate of the American Independent Party in California. Normally, I believe this party nominates the same presidential candidate as the Constitution Party. The Constitution Party’s candidate–who is not on this state’s ballot–is Chuck Baldwin, who earlier had received the endorsement of Ron Paul.
Once again Californians are being asked at this election, in Proposition 11, whether we want to establish an “independent” commission to redraw legislative district boundaries after each national census. Notwithstanding that this measure is closer than the other 11 propositions on the statewide ballot to my own field of research, I remained undecided on it until today (whereas a decision on most of the others was immediately obvious).
I have decided to vote no, but it is not a decision I make with good feeling, as there are many positive things about the measure. And much wrong with the status quo.
As an advocate of reform away from plurality, I have a difficult time getting excited about tinkering within the framework of a plurality system. That we are debating, in 2008, whether to take drawing of district boundaries out of the hands of self-interested elected legislators, shows how far we have not come in democratic electoral politics.
from Maine westward to the Pacific Ocean, in the last ten years, in no state whatever had there been an honest and fair district apportionment bill passed for the election of members of Congress [except] where two branches of a legislature were divided in political opinion, and one checked the other.
That quotation is from Henry Droop, a passionate advocate of reforms away from plurality, and specifically of the single transferable vote. He wrote those words in 1869. Here we are in 2008, and the words still ring true, other than their needing to be amended by a recognition that in modern times divided partisan control has often resulted in an arguably even worse outcome: the bipartisan incumbent-protection racket, rather than an “honest and fair” bill.
Reforms to put map-drawing in the hands of “independent” agencies were adopted long ago in most plurality jurisdictions. But here we are, still debating it. And here I am, unable to vote for the measure.
There are actually several items in the measure’s favor. First is the obvious fact that legislators’ drawing legislative district lines is a conflict of interest, which we the people should take away. It is a clear “good government” reform. Also arguing in favor is a pragmatic reformer’s long-run view: Progress towards proportional representation (of whatever form) is unlikely so long as there is a claim to be made, such as is made by the proponents of Prop 11, that redistricting reform will result in a more responsive legislature with fewer ‘safe’ members. I suspect that the movement in that direction, while likely positive, is unlikely to be substantial. Maybe the PR movement needs a period of time for discontent about the impact of ‘fair districting’ to sink in before the public will be open to real reform.
Yet another argument in favor of this specific measure is that, unlike past proposals, this one does not include the state’s House of Representatives districts within the purview of the proposed redistricting commission. Of course, I would favor the drawing of House districts on independent criteria, rather than by state legislators–if we must keep plurality election of the House. However, I am not an advocate of unilateral partisan disarmament. A move to independent redistricting in one large and Democratic-dominated state without simultaneous moves by some significant Republican-dominated states risks the future partisan balance of the House. Thus redistricting reform in the House presumably should be done via constitutional amendment or an interstate compact (on the model of the National Popular Vote for the presidency).
The specific measure has some major problems, however. It has an extremely complex procedure designed to keep it free of partisan influence, yet at the same time it allows the leaders of the two major parties in Sacramento to strike names from the short list of candidates for commissioner.1
The commission would be comprised of 14 members, five from each of the two largest parties (based on voter registration) and four who are not registered with either of the two largest parties. Right there, that alone is almost a deal-breaker for me: it entrenches a role in election district-drawing for two parties, not even allowing for the possibility that a third party might one day win a seat or two. If such a party did win a seat or two, this commission would find it easier than a genuinely independent agency to gerrymander the third-party districts out of existence.
The Commission would be granted funds and software with which to draw maps, based on specific (and good–but, as discussed in the comments, potentially contradictory) criteria laid out in the measure.2 A decision on maps for each house of the legislature3 would have to be taken by nine votes on the Commission, including at least three votes by Commissioners representing each of the major parties and three Commissioners not representing the two major parties.
The appointment process is convoluted, but starts with self-selection in that voters submit applications. The State Auditor4 establishes an Applicant Review Panel (ARP), drawn randomly from auditors until there is one name from each major party and one who is registered with another party or nonpartisan. The ARP then screens the applicants, disqualifying those with stipulated conflicts of interest (including having been a candidate to partisan office or a family member of a candidate, and various other disqualifications).
Names are then drawn from the remaining pool to form a short list of 20 from each major party and 20 more who are not registered with a major party. These three groups of 20 are identified in the measure as the “subpools.” This is where the ‘strikes’ come in. The majority and minority party leaders in each house of the state legislature are now each allowed to remove two applicants from each subpool–for a total of 8 possible strikes from the original 60. Then the remaining names go forward to the State Auditor, who draws up the preliminary members of the Commission. The Auditor, however, selects only eight members (3 from each major party and 2 who are not). The remaining six (2 from each major party and 2 not from either major party) are co-opted onto the Commission by the originally selected eight (from the subpools). That feature limits the randomness inherent in the initial creation of the subpools, because if the initial six are comprised in part of members with partisan interest, they then have the ability to stack the rest of the Commission in their favor.
I actually am simplifying what is in the actual text of the measure! I wonder if a less complex process could have been devised? Perhaps even one with less input by top leaders of the partisan duopoly?
One troubling feature of the measure is the absence of any realistic role for the 19.5% of voters registered “Decline to State” [any party affiliation] or the 4.3% registered with parties other than Republican and Democrat.5 While voters from this pool of the electorate can submit their names, there is nothing to stop the leaders of the major parties from exercising their ‘strike’ option against anyone who enters the pool and is seen as an advocate for interests beyond those of the two main parties. And there is no representative of voters other than Democrats and Republicans delegated the ‘strike’ authority. In fact, one could doubt whether the legislative leaders are meaningful representatives for this purpose even of the voters who register with their parties.
In essence, the drafters of this initiative are trying to make the process appear to be driven by citizens,6 but were not willing to go as far as something resembling an actual Citizens Assembly.7 It looks to me as if this Commission is so structured as to recreate bipartisan dominance through what only looks like an independent commission. Yet it would be entrenched in the state constitution.
The disenfranchisement of actual independent voters reminds me of another of my favorite passages from Droop’s 1869 essay on electoral reform (part of which is enshrined in the blog’s banner):
a large proportion of the electors who vote for the candidates of the one party or the other really care much more about the country being honestly and wisely governed than about the particular points at issue between the two parties; and if this moderate non-partisan section of the electors had their separate representatives in the assembly, they would be able to mediate between the opposing parties and prevent the one party from pushing their advantage too far, and the other from prolonging a factious opposition.
Indeed, this measure shows–and entrenches–the difficulties those moderate and nonpartisan voters have of gaining representation in a fundamental part of the democratic process: districting. As I indicated above, of course, I doubt that such voters who care, above all, “about the country [or state] being honestly and wisely governed” can ever be fully enfranchised through single-seat districts. And, as I have often argued here, significant electoral reform is unlikely as long as no third parties make breakthroughs into our representative bodies. Californians have before them on Nov. 4 a measure that would make such a breakthrough no more, and perhaps less, likely than it is now, by entrenching a bipartisan dominance over the redistricting process. For these reasons, I will be voting NO on Proposition 11.
Via an e-mail from Californians for Electoral Reform:
Thanks to you, Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) has taken a quantum leap! Due to the unanimous outpouring of support at yesterday’s City Hall hearing, the Los Angeles City Council could decide to put IRV on the November 2008 ballot TOMORROW (Fri).
And on the off chance that anyone reading this could attend, CFER adds:
…We are Item 11 on the agenda – which means that IRV will be heard anytime between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm (unfortunately, we can’t predict the exact time).
Other CFER news, from a separate message regarding the organization’s recent annual meeting:
We gave Wilma Rule Memorial Awards1 to State Senator Tom McClintock for being the only Republican in the legislature to vote for AB 1294,2 and to Max Rexroad, conservative Yolo county supervisor, who wrote an editorial in support of AB 1294 in the California FlashReport, an influential Republican web site.
Wilma Rule was a scholar and activist for electoral reform, with whom I coauthored a paper several years ago. She authored several important early pieces on the impact of electoral systems on representation of women. [↩]
McClintock was the Republican office-holder who entered the 2003 replacement election concurrent with then-Governor Gray Davis’s recall, to oppose Arnold Schwarzenegger, and won around 12% of the vote. And, yes, Arnold would have won even with IRV, despite his winning slightly under 50% in the actual plurality contest. Too bad McClintock did not make electoral reform an issue when he had a statewide forum. Instead, repealing the “car tax” is about all he talked about. Still, kudos to him for being a Republican for democracy. [↩]
California holds its primary election this Tuesday. But, wait, didn’t we do that already? Yes, and no. For what I think is the first time in state history, our presidential and legislative primaries are on separate dates.1 We had the presidential primary on ‘Super Tuesday’ (5 February). Legislative and many local races are 3 June.
With no US Senate race this year, and this not being an election year for statewide constitutional offices, primaries will be held only for congressional, state-legislative, and other sub-state entities. This is evidently also unprecedented.
Turnout will be low. Really low. And, of course, this being California, there are statewide ballot measures being voted on,2 allowing a potentially unrepresentative sample of the state electorate to make public policy for all the state’s residents.
Inevitably, the separate dates and the expected low turnout for this election have led to lots of “what ifs.” That is, what if California had kept its usual June primary for presidential nominating delegates? With the Democratic race having extended throughout the whole primary season, imagine the impact California would have had!
How much impact? Less than it actually had.
The “what if” scenario–which I have heard or read numerous pundits state–rests on the assumption that there would have been frantic competition between Clinton and Obama for such a BIG PRIZE at the end. The problem with this claim is that it rests on an implicit winner-take-all logic, as well as on the notion that only the “decisive” votes count.3 Sure, if California used winner-take-all, and no other state did, and we had this close race… Then it would be quite a prize indeed. But with the proportional allocation of delegates–the only democratic way to do it4–a contest this late would have had much less impact than it had back in February.
When we went to vote in February, we genuinely did not know the outcome of the contest. With 370 delegates at stake, and 81 of them decided statewide, about every 1.2% of the vote for a candidate meant another statewide delegate, and local swings between the candidates also would shift some number of the district delegates between the candidates (depending on magnitude of the district and how much of a local swing).
Now the race is over, and it has been (effectively) over for some time. The pledged delegate count (after the Florida/Michigan adjustment), according to Real Clear Politics, stands at:
Without California, it would be
A deficit for Clinton of 154 rather than the actual 116.
Chances are she would have done no better in California in June that she did in February. In fact, I suspect she would lose if we were voting this week. Suppose the result of the two candidate race (55%-45%) were to be reversed–probably an unrealistically large swing relative to the real result. Obama would pick up 38 delegates at her expense. We would be at 1774 to 1582. Not exactly race-altering. Of course, if we add in the ex-oficio delegates under the assumption they would have been declaring at the same rate and same proportions even if California had not voted yet, then we probably would be looking at a clinch for Obama in California on 3 June.5 But, again, the notion that such a scenario implies more meaningful votes for Californians than the ones they actually cast in February rests on a dubious logic. It requires the belief that it is better to give a candidate the clinching delegate in a race that is clearly all but over than it is to have voted early when almost every vote counted in affecting the balance of delegates in a race that was just developing. The latter is certainly closer to the “every vote counts” democratic ideal. It certainly made me feel my own vote was more meaningful than if I had to wait till this week to weigh in at last.
Such practice is typical in some other states, especially those that routinely vote earlier in the presidential nominating cycle. [↩]
Two of them, both concerning eminent domain. We can’t ever seem to have just one measure per issue. I’ll do what many voters do when they don’t understand the issues and strongly suspect some organized interest is trying to pull one over on me: Vote no on both. [↩]
The same logic by which the closer makes more money than the set-up man. The ninth inning is clearly more important, right? [↩]
And, in any event, one state is not going to be allowed to deviate from the proportional rule applied elsewhere. And if most or all states used winner-take-all, the contest would have been over long ago [↩]
RCP shows him at 2065 as of today, and if he won 38 more in California than he actually did, he’d be 15 short. But with polls closing in South Dakota and Montana earlier on 3 June than in California, the Golden State would deliver the decisive vote. But the assumption on ‘supers’ is probably unrealistic. With the biggest state not having voted yet, it is likely that fewer of the unelected delegates would have declared by now. And if so, California still would not be decisive. [↩]
News like this makes me proud to be a Californian, even if the vote was only 4-3.
Predictably, the Obama campaign takes the safe dodge: it’s up to the states.1
Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) lives up to his name, sounding the cry for his party’s band of bigots:
this ruling effectively opens the door to allowing the opinion of this stateâ€™s court on same-sex marriage to stand as the law of the land for the entire country.
May it be so.2 Sometimes the outcome is more important than the process.
As for the politics, what Scott Lemieux says sounds about right to me:
People overstate the extent to which people vote on social issues, and people who get outraged by decisions permitting gays and lesbians in other states to get married are overwhelmingly likely to be Republican voters anyway.
In that vein, it is well worth noting that the California Court cited its 1948 ruling striking down a ban on interracial marriage–which was in fact still illegal in many (most?) states at the time that Barack Obama’s parents married. [↩]
Of course, it will not be so until such time as the Defense of [Exclusionary] Marriage Act, signed by a Democratic President, is repealed. May that day come sooner than seems possible. [↩]
Or at least nominated by Republican governors. [↩]
You probably thought the race for California’s delegates to the Democratic Party nominating convention had been settled some time ago, right? Well, no. Obama has narrowed Clinton’s lead in the state in such a way as to make up most of the ground he (appears to have) lost in the “bad day” in Ohio and Texas. 1
A California politics blogger has argued that Sen. Clinton won 36 more pledged delegates in the state than Sen. Obama, rather than the 44-delegate margin that has long been included in the news organizationsâ€™ tallies. A spokesman for the state party confirms the bloggerâ€™s numbers.
The shift, if validated once the state certifies its election results this week and the party chooses its delegates, is a reminder that the commonly reported delegate totals are mere estimates, subject to change as states finalize election results. It also highlights how a blogger with intense focus on the numbers may be faster than the established delegate counters.
There was one district (#16) that has 4 delegates and in which Clinton came up 58 votes short of enough to win 3. In #53 (down my way, but not the one I live in), the final count changed a small plurality for Clinton into a small plurality for Obama. Given that the district has an odd number (3) that swung a delegate.
n the 50the district (which covers coastal parts of the city of San Diego), Clinton won the delegate count, 3-2, but a comment at another of Dayen’s posts said (but I have not confirmed) that her margin over Obama that was less than the votes won by Kucinich.
And it was not only at the district level where results have shifted in the updated counts. The statewide popular-vote margin has narrowed rather substantially, from the initially reported 10 percentage points to 8.7, and that has cut Clinton’s lead in the statewide elected delegates from 13 to 11.
The current, but still unofficial result, is Clinton 203, Obama 167.2
We are talking about small numbers of delegates (and votes) here, but this is one of those races in which small numbers may matter!
Which was not so bad, really. I have seen estimates that show a quite close split of Ohio’s delegates, and a small lead for Obama in the “Texas Two-Step.” [↩]
And, of course, the state has a lot of bionics. Sixty five of th “super” delegates, in fact. Currently, 29 are with Clinton and only 13 Obama. But 23 remain uncommitted. [↩]
San Diego had an election outcome altered because of ovals not filled in. Now we have another potential oval issue in Los Angeles.
Turns out that in Los Angeles County, if a DTS1 voter requests their Democratic ballot and casts their vote, but does NOT mark “Democratic” in the appropriate space, the vote will indeed not be counted.
I’m not sure that is quite correct. It won’t be registered by the polling-place counting machine, but that does not mean it will not be counted, period. (Click for picture of the ballot.)
Whatever the disposition of these votes, the question that arises is how hard can it be to design a voter-friendly ballot?
Decline to state, i.e., nonpartisan/independent. [↩]
If you are a voter in California (and you haven’t voted early by now), please vote yes on 93. This is the measure that changes the term limits provisions on California legislators. It is a very partial reform, but in the right direction. Bruce Cain, political scientist at UC Berkeley, expresses the logic well:
One of the most important findings in our PPIC1 report on term limits is that there is a pressing need to hold the executive branch accountable, particularly in the budget process, to ensure that taxpayer money isn’t being wasted. Amending term limits to give legislators more time and incentives to develop expertise will be an important step toward making state agencies, and the executive branch as a whole, more accountable. This is an important reform – it’s a basic issue of checks and balances.
The above comes from the TermLimitsReform.com website, at which there is also a link to a radio ad featuring my colleague, Thad Kousser.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4