Is it still a vote when there's only one choice?
More people now vote absentee than show up at polling places on election days, yet California's elected leaders can't bring themselves to change the rules that frequently have more poll workers than voters. It's a huge waste of money.
Case in point: My own voting experience in San Francisco. I won't get on my soapbox, but I consider the act of voting a civic responsibility. I love to walk through my neighborhood to my designated polling place, which is almost always set up in someone's garage. I don't know how much longer this election-day routine will last -- because it's clearly wasting California's money.
I was the only voter in my polling place when I voted. I was outnumbered four to one by poll workers.
One located my name on the registration rolls then took my signature. Another handed me my ballots. Once I'd marked my selections, a third worker removed the receipts from the ballots and gave them to me, and a fourth paid observer made sure I properly fed my ballots into a machine. I'm not sure which of them offered me an "I Voted" sticker, but I asked for a second so that I could give one to each of my twins. I want them to know that because voting is a right that's been won with so many sacrifices, it's our minimum responsibility to be citizens of a democracy. When they're not in school, I take them with me.
I fear this tradition must change if it doesn't disappear altogether, but I have allies in Sacramento who don't want to face reality. Given the fact that absentee voters now outnumber people like me, does it make any sense to adhere to old rules that dictate each polling place (for every 1,000 voters) be staffed by four workers? Each of them earns at least a hundred dollars per day. Some make $150.
For five years now, election officials have been trying to convince Sacramento that the rules are antiquated. For their own reasons, Democrats and Republicans are concerned that making modifications that guide more voters toward absentee voting will somehow have a negative impact on their respective parties on election day.
One such proposal actually made it through the state legislature in 2008, but it died when Gov. Schwarzenegger carried out his slash-and-burn vetoes of a desk full of bills to get the legislature to focus on the state budget.
Since County officials complain consistently about the cost of so many elections in California even as money becomes tighter, it seems inevitable that changes will be made; fewer polling places perhaps, or far fewer poll workers, or a combination of the two. Might we at some point come to rely solely on mail-in balloting?
I hope not. I love the tradition of standing in a little booth and then feeding my ballot into a machine and feeling like I've participated in something special. But I also recognize a waste of money when I see it. Changes could save the state millions of dollars. Just leave me a polling place somewhere.