Confusing the voter

Voter education is at an all time low and despite spending billions on an election cycle, voters aren’t getting any smarter or wiser.

This became painfully clear as I went door-to-door on Saturday working for the presidents campaign and collecting signatures for my future Dayton City Commission race.

When asking about the Senate race, which in the scheme of things is probably as important as the presidential, the survey form had the names Brown and Mandel. In the congressional, they were only asking Dem or Rep, leaving out Neuhardt and Turner’s names.

Although it wasn’t on the walk sheet, voters are just as lost when it comes to issues, polling places, rules and regs. A woman said to me that she can’t vote because she had a felony- a common misunderstanding in Ohio. You can’t vote while serving time for a felony- but after you’re done, you’re back to voting status. Another was so glad to find out she was registered here, having moved from Middletown, but hadn’t received any notification and didn’t know where her polling place was. Last time we went to the polls, it was vote no on issue 2, and now, it’s vote yes on issue 2- I saw two teachers vehicles in my kids school parking lot- one with a bumper sticker each way- of course, one was two years old. Confusion rules.
Never mind same name candidates. We’ve got a county commissioner named Dan Foley and we’ve got Foley signs up all over the county- it’s not the same Foley.

I even heard people saying they wouldn’t make up their minds until they saw the “voters guide”- ostensibly, the one produced by the league of Women’s voters and distributed by the newspaper (which fewer and fewer people get). On the flip side, I heard on NPR that the Post Office wasn’t going to go broke this month, only thanks to the huge influx of campaign cash being spent on direct mail.

So why is there so much resistance to changing the system? Obviously, this isn’t the best way to run campaigns or elections (unless you own a media outlet and are getting fat and happy from campaign spending). The single thing I’ve heard from most of the people was that they can’t wait for this to be over, to which I’m in total agreement.

Instead of counting on tv ads, billboards and mailings- why can’t we create a complete voters guide giving each candidate equal space- mailed to every voter- and not with a request form for an absentee ballot or directions to a polling place, but with a paper ballot that they can mail in at their convenience? It’s been this way in Oregon for years. With this much focus on early voting and the like- we know that paper ballots work by mail.

Soundbite :30 second tv spots, billboards, radio spots aren’t made to inform the voter- they’re made to persuade the voter and more often than not end up being a mudslinging mess. If this is the best we can do, we’re bound to keep getting the results we’ve had.

American’s deserve better elections. It’s time to rethink the way we educate the voter and ask for their participation in a process that needs massive improvement. It’s time to take the confusion out of the process and work to make sure that we’ve got the best educated and informed electorate possible.

I’m pretty sure it can be done for a lot less than $6 billion dollars too.

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14 Responses

  1. Rick Kaczmarek October 29, 2012 / 8:15 am
    Disagree, David.  There is more information available today than in any previous election cycle.  Your antectdotal tales of individual voters who either profess ignorance and confusion or whom you incorrectly judge to be incompetent voters really point to individual failures which will not be remedied by a single publication.  Anyone who cares need not work very hard to gather all kinds of quality information about every issue and candidate. 
  2. Diane October 29, 2012 / 8:39 am
    This is why I vote absentee every time. With ballot in hand, I sit in front of my computer and look up every candidate I am not familiar with. I don’t vote until I understand who and what I am voting for. It’s not that difficult. 
  3. Ashley Webb October 29, 2012 / 9:22 am
    I agree with David, there has to be a way to improve access to information.  While there are definitely examples of individual failures when it comes to due diligence on the part of voters, there are also many people that don’t have access to the internet or newspapers and can’t readily research candidates and issues.

    As I walk door to door campaigning for County Commission I am struck by how many people don’t have easy access to these information sources.  Having some way of presenting a baseline amount of information to every voter that comes directly from each candidate  would be a positive change.  We hear a lot about potential disenfranchisement, but I’m more concerned with the number of voters who don’t vote down the ballot, many because they feel they don’t have enough information about the candidates or issues. 

  4. Eric Worthen October 29, 2012 / 9:30 am
    I must agree with Rick in regards to personal responsibility in the electoral process.  Apathy has become the ally of politicos who choose to use sound bite tactics to sway the masses.  We are evolving into what I like to call “mobocracy”.  Decisions by the individual (and ultimately the group) are made viscerally-  the two most abused tactics are fear and anger.  Of course the two party perversion encourages this model-  lazy voters show up and vote a straight party ticket without ever understanding the underlying issues or having a sense of a candidates character.  The expectation that people will be spoon fed the truth is laughable…  truth is only gathered when the individual demands nothing less.  Sheep will be sheep– and all the wolf sees is an easy meal.
  5. David Esrati October 29, 2012 / 10:12 am

    The digital divide is very real folks. And, frankly, the amount of time it takes to find each candidates site- issues sites- etc. is way too difficult and time consuming. Had I been put on the BOE- I would have had them build a system that you type in your address- and get a sample ballot- with built in links to every issue and candidate.
    But- that still doesn’t solve the problem for those without the internet.

    You really do have to go door-to-door. I’ve been on the ballot in Dayton at least 10 times- you’d think more people would know my name… but- I still get zero recognition at many doors.

  6. Janis James October 29, 2012 / 10:34 am
    Need to clarify about the League of Women Voters Guide. This is now prodcued in partnership with THE CITY PAPER. The DDN does produce a Voters Guide, but without the help of Leeague. DDN wanted to run political ads in the publicaton. So, League found another partner who believes in providing non-partisan information. The Voters Guide is also available at all libraries in the area. Vote411.org is also an excellent source for information. I agree with you Dave, there is much confusion and we need to find more solid sources of information than soundbytes. As for the current guide provided by the DDn, it contains minsinformation about the deadline for mailing in absentee ballots…. ah, yes. Voter confusion is voter suppression.
  7. Eric Worthen October 29, 2012 / 10:42 am
    Ownership of the process- regardless of time and effort is the responsibility and duty of the citizen.  As for the digital divide- it is a gap crossed at any public library.  We have funded these institutions to the tune of $18.9 million in 2011 and $17.8 million in 2012.  The argument for the allocation of these funds has been, and continues to be, to provide a venue for ALL citizens to access information.  Not every home has a PC or internet- undeniable- but ALL citizens have access to the library.  Stop enabling and creating excuses for those who opt to remain in ignorance.   
  8. David Esrati October 29, 2012 / 11:19 am

    @Eric- I must respectfully disagree- even with the library- there isn’t a central place to find all the information you’d need for your ballot in advance. This should be accomplished by the BOE- with links to official sites etc.
    And- as to the library- what, are people supposed to read the DDN and get the info? Really?

    We need to streamline this system.

  9. Eric Worthen October 29, 2012 / 12:02 pm
    Victimstance is a cognitive distortion as defined by the psychologist Saminow.  The process SHOULD require research and individual effort by the citizenry- it provides a springboard for empowerment by the individual through the educational process. 

    Perhaps an analogy- a person gets a car as a gift then feels sorry for themselves because they have to study and take a test to get a drivers license.

    However, I do like the idea of a clearinghouse of candidate and issue links posted by the BOE- They could have used the $60,000 from the botched mailing to fund it….    

  10. Dr. Funkenstein October 29, 2012 / 9:13 pm
    All of this discussion is good but until the people have a microphone bigger than esrati.com our problems are not going to be solved. If the DDN or local TV did their jobs and put pressure on local government BOE Director Harsman would have been investigated for stolen voting machines, using tax money to fun an affair with his secretary and the 600+ voters that never got a full ballot a few years back (and many other incidents).  Most recently Harsman bungled a $60,000 voting location mailing that will lead to some voters being disenfranchised.  The guy should be in jail and then banned from working for government ever again but nothing ever happens. How are we going to fix or change anything in our voting system when we can’t get a criminal BOE Director removed?
  11. Bob from the Boro October 31, 2012 / 7:12 am
    Your article supports my position that registering to vote should be made MORE DIFFICULT and not easier.  I hate uniformed voters.  They are the reason that the two parties speak in sound bites.  They know most of the shepple won’t take the time to get informed about the candidates or the issues so they can be easily manipulated.

    If someone doesn’t want to expend enough effort to go to the library to register to vote, then why in the heck would they get registered to vote just because they have a driver’s license?   It is because the dems know that stupid voters are more likely to vote for them so the more sheeple they get registered the more votes they will get.

    The bottom line in my book is that if you are too lazy to get informed then stay home and let an informed citizenry select its leaders.   

      

  12. David Lauri October 31, 2012 / 11:33 am
    Bob declares, “I hate uniformed voters.”  Shame on you, Bob, for not supporting our troops!
  13. Jim Oblak November 1, 2012 / 11:04 pm
    Smartvoter.org appears to be the best available option but the information provided to it is voluntary. One would think that the board of elections would be the ideal source for details about the candidate/issue. Could it be too much trouble for Ohio law to require that each campaign, while registering for an election, should submit a biography/agenda to be posted on the BOE web site …and also printed and displayed at polling locations for those on the other side of the digital divide?
    To enforce section 5.06 of the Ohio Constitution, all voters should be required to answer a basic government question like “how many representatives does Ohio have in the US Senate?”. Think of it like a CAPTCHA test.
    Something might also be said about informed candidates. While not making any endorsement (I just work in Mo Co; no longer a resident), I have to call out Mr. Webb. I have observed him in several areas where I work, asking questions and learning. That is unfortunately rare.
  14. David Lauri November 2, 2012 / 9:26 am
    Of course there’s no potential at all for problems with Jim Oblak’s proposal that “all voters should be required to answer a basic government question.” Why the Supreme Court of 1898 thought literacy tests for voters were a fine thing.

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