California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has made increasing voter registration and turnout a priority. He has crisscrossed our state trying to increase civic engagement and has spent many hours encouraging young people to vote.
Here in Fresno and surrounding communities, groups such as the League of Women Voters have focused on registering young people. The activist group Faith in Community has engaged people in left-behind neighborhoods and held a forum that drew the largest crowd of the Fresno mayoral campaign. It also is targeting infrequent voters in canvassing efforts leading to Tuesday’s statewide primary.
All this work, and yet the early indicators are that the turnout in Fresno County again will be lackluster – even with the California New Motor Voter Act in effect. The law, signed by Gov. Brown last October, requires drivers who are eligible to vote to be signed up automatically when they get a new driver’s license or if they renew their license.
The Bee’s John Ellis tweeted the vote-by-mail numbers for the Fresno mayoral race through Friday morning, and they weren’t encouraging for those of us who believe that voting is a civic duty and essential to a thriving democracy. Less than 14% of registered voters in the city of Fresno had returned their ballots – even with a heated race to pick a successor for two-term mayor Ashley Swearengin up for grabs.
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Based on these returns, the primary turnout figures to be less than 30% and a continuation of the Fresno County voter apathy that produced a 26.2% turnout for the 2014 statewide primary in which Gov. Jerry Brown was re-elected.
What is going on?
For starters, California, once again, doesn’t figure to play a significant role in the presidential nomination process. Donald Trump has crossed the delegate line for the Republicans and, barring a miracle by Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton will be the Democrats’ choice.
Trump, with his successful quest to appeal to people’s emotions rather than their intellects, has sucked much of the political oxygen out of the room. People are paying great attention to Trump and also to Sanders, but here in Fresno that attention has yet to translate into great numbers of people sitting down at the kitchen table and filling out their ballots.
But voting matters. It’s one of the two places where the rubber hits the road in politics; the other place being the crafting of government budgets. If you don’t vote, you forfeit influence. People who say they sit out elections to send a message of protest are deluding themselves. Not voting is a cop-out, the sour grapes of those who don’t fully appreciate the rights that Americans enjoy.
Here’s something else: Taxes matter. Voters across the heart of our Valley are being asked to approve a $485 million bond measure for State Center Community College District. Passage of Measure C will enhance vocational education facilities, add new buildings and update technology. We believe you should support the measure. It’s a smart investment in our region’s future and in young adults.
But you might feel differently, and we’d hate to think that you might be OK with taxation without representation (of your own volition).
Get off your duff and vote.