Saturday voting -- and how to fund it

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Alex Tourk, a local political consultant who was once Gavin Newsom's campaign manager, came by today to pitch us on his latest project: Saturday voting. He's generated a fair amount of press on the concept, and it sounds like one of those thing nobody could oppose; why not open the polls an extra day? In fact, why not open the polls from Friday until Monday? Why Tuesday, anyway?

Well, Tuesday voting is a creature of the mid-1800s, when it took a couple of days to get from the farm to the town center, and nobody wanted to start out on a Sunday. Now it's in the California constitution. But there's no law that says you can't vote Saturday AND Tuesday.

What Tourk is proposing is fairly simple: Voting places would be open Saturday, but there would be no voting machines. You'd just go there and fill out an absentee ballot. Which you could also do at home, of course, and a citywide vote-by-mail effort might increase turnout even more. (Or maybe it wouldn't, given the low rate at which census forms are getting returned.)

Tourk says he wants to build excitement about elections and community interest; that's why he wants the polls open an extra day -- and a day when more people are off work and thus, in theory, would have more time to vote. He's circulating an initiative that would set up a one-time pilot project, for the 2011 mayor's race. If it works, maybe the supervisors and the mayor will want to continue it.

Here's my big concern: Tourk doesn't want to ask for public money from a city that's deep in the red, so he's proposing to raise the $1 million or so it would cost for Saturday voting from private interests.

Of course, the names of the donors would all be public, but still: Managing elections is about the most central democratic function of a government -- and I really don't want to see private interests involved. It seems to me that if this is worth doing, it's worth paying for with public funds.

Where would that money come from? Here's an idea: Prop. 15, the California Fair Elections Act, would set up a pilot program for public funding for statewide elections. The money would come from fees on lobbyists. Why can't we do the same thing in San Francisco? Fund Saturday elections with a lobbyist fee -- and a tax on political consultants.

Seriously: Consultants make money by manipulating democracy. They represent, on a deep philosophical level, the privatization of American politics. I'm not saying all consultants are bad or that they should be outlawed or anything like that -- but a modest levy on political consultant fees would more than fund a Saturday election pilot program.

Tourk smiled when I suggested this, and would only say it was "an interesting idea." Now, which supervisor is going to pick up on a tax that will only offend the small number of people who help get all our local officials elected?

Comments

Which would include all the; non profits, public employee unions, special interest groups based on race, sex and sexual preference, weekly newspapers, environmental groups, etc... Not just the evil lobbyists that the progressive don't like.

Also the whole motor voter didn't thing back in the day didn't work out so well for the left, it just reminded retired republicans to vote in Arizona and Florida.

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 06, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

When I first got to the City in '94, some enterprising campaign figured out a way to hijack my absentee ballot to vote in my place by mail.

Let's get people to the -polls- with full public funding - not privatize democracy, while turning voting into a couch potato mail-in sport, driven by private 'public service' advertising.

Corporate funding of our national debates has destroyed them.

Do we want the same to happen to our very elections themselves?

I think not.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Apr. 06, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

There's:

A) the argument that private funding shouldn't facilitate elections--ever, and
B) the argument that private funding shouldn't facilitate this ONE project, as a one-off, when public monies are scarcer than any time since 1929.

I understand the danger of setting a precedent. We don't want the McDonald's Decision 2010™. And I'm sensitive the problem posed by, say, PG&E or The Gap's name being associated with anything to do with municipal governance. I hear you loud and clear. But this is just a trivial little tweak to see if you can boost turnout.

And the idea that if "it's worth doing, it's worth paying for with public funds" doesn't stretch very far if there are literally no public funds to experiment with during this Great Recession.

I mean, we're talking about a million bucks in San Francisco. That can be cobbled together without a problem. But is this really an objection to the means or is than an objection to the ends? Is there evidence to suggest that absentee voters in San Francisco are more moderate than the average? Is that what this is really about? Because it smells like it.

Posted by generic on Apr. 06, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

generic, your argument is classic 'Disaster Capitalism' as described in Naomi Klein's 'Shock Doctrine'.

Capitalists hoard almost all wealth to themselves and evade taxation (just as they did in the 20's that you mention) until the economy collapses, and no social services are sufficiently publicly funded. And then the same capitalists swoop in and say 'Gosh in times like these you need to get the money from us, or take a loan from us (IMF World Bank), or you need to outsource to our private companies to get your water, health care, electricity, etc. because your government can't afford it.'

That is how the public sector has been loan sharked and hijacked by capitalists throughout time immemorial.

Now it's 'Gosh where else will you get the funding for this Saturday election pilot?'.

And the answer from the people to the private sector robber barons must be -

Not from you brother.

Not from you.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Apr. 06, 2010 @ 10:19 pm

Thanks, Tim, for writing this. I also wonder about the model of Saturday as the day off -- has anyone done a study of who is actually off work on a Saturday? Lots of workers have to work all weekend. Who specifically would this measure help?

Plus, is this really why people aren't voting -- because of the day of the week that the polls are open --? Or is it because they think elections are a sham/ that the candidates are shallow/ or that they feel no connection to the political process/ etc?

Posted by rachel brahinsky on Apr. 07, 2010 @ 9:42 am

Progressive think that just one more program will solve things, when that doesn't work, just one more.

The thinking is that if they make it even easier to vote, then more of the right kind of people will vote, people who agree with them. It takes a few minutes to register to vote by mail, and the targeted voter is too lazy for even that.

In the 80's there was motor voter, which wondered through the courts for years, then ended up increasing the number of republicans who voted, often by mail. So this backfiring on the Guardian liberal seems pretty good.

Also the targeted voter may well sadly be a yes on 8 type voter, thus exposing a fair number of new voters to accusations of bigotry and stupidity, when they were just lazy before.

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 07, 2010 @ 10:23 am

Rachel, I think that's one of the key questions here. Do we really know who would vote on Saturday -- and whether those people can't vote on Tuesday? There are, for example, people (like myself) who have kids who are even busier on the weekends than during the week. There are people who go away on weekends. There are people who work weekends.

Now, to be fair, Tourk doesn't want to shift Election Day to Saturday -- he wants to add an extra day, so you can vote Saturday OR Tuesday. I'd prefer we have three or vote days to vote, say, Friday-Monday, and it's all publicly funded.

Posted by tim on Apr. 07, 2010 @ 11:41 am

Oregon and Washington have both abolished polling places and now allow elections exclusively by mail - and it has increased both state's turnout. There's no reason it shouldn't happen in California - it's also cheaper, faster and more accurate too.

Posted by Lucretia the Trollop on Apr. 07, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

For the most part there is no reason people cannot vote on Tuesday, and if they cannot they can vote absentee. Absentee is the future of voting and election day can be for those who choose, or, hopefully for those who register at the last minute. Lets focus on more important things and if we want to charge lobbyists, lets use those fee's to refill the coffers of our own public financing program which, last time I checked is on its way to being busted. Thanks Gavin. I must say though, I vote in person because I like getting the sticker...

Posted by Chris on Apr. 07, 2010 @ 6:24 pm