Informed Voting

Primary Day here in California is June 5, and I’ve received my handy-dandy State and County Voter Guides (sent to all registered voters) to help navigate the event. It’s particularly helpful this year, since California is undergoing not only redistricting (an unusually turbulent event thanks to the “citizen-driven” independent mapping system that was very unkind to incumbents) but the full shift to a “top two” primary system, basically abolishing party primaries at the sub-presidential level. The County Voter Guide includes a simple explanation of how “top two” works, along with a summary of boundary changes for congressional and legislative districts.

As has been the case in the past, the Voter Guides also cover ballot initiatives in some detail (with pro and con analysis and fiscal analysis, along with full texts), and also offer candidates who agree to spending limits an opportunity to publish statements making their pitch, which is very helpful in obscure local races.

California is the fifth state in which I have been registered to vote since I turned 18, but the first to offer anything like the Voter Guides. With the radical shrinkage in state and local political coverage available through any sort of media, I honestly don’t know what I’d do without them, and I’m obviously in a position to be better informed than the average voter since I spend most of my time reading and writing about politics. And I get better informed each cycle: just now I discovered I could opt out of receiving the Voter Guides in the mail and just read them online, saving this environmentally stressed and cash-strapped community the necessity of killing more trees.

The state also provides the opportunity to register as a voter-by-mail (about half of California voters take advantage of this), which means you automatically receive a mail ballot for every election.

So despite the Golden State’s incredible level of political and civic dysfunction, and the extraordinary low esteem in which the public holds virtually everyone in politics and government (believe me, it’s far worse than anywhere else I’ve lived), it’s by no means the worst place to be a political junkie, or even an informed voter. That’s particularly true this year, when the airwaves are not being befouled by the kind of massive, mindless campaign ads Meg Whitman ran in 2010, which made me avoid broadcast television for months.

I am curious to hear what people in other states are doing these days to stay informed on local politics, since the rapid disappearance of media coverage is happening everywhere. Let me know in the comment thread if you have anything interesting to share.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.