When I moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago, I knew I'd have certain responsibilities: hiking, smiling, pretending medical advice doesn't need to come from a doctor. I did not know, however, that in order to be able to pull the infinite levers in the voting booth, I'd have to build my forearm muscles. This, I believe, is why L.A. created the porn industry.
My mailbox was hard to open the day this year's California voter's guide arrived. It is a record 224 pages, not including my separate 96-page L.A. guide. In California, we elect our insurance commissioner, superintendent of public construction and the board of equalization, which is a board that is in charge of equalizing things. We are voting on whether porn actors have to use condoms, for my second time since moving here. Hamilton and Madison crafted a republic to avoid this kind of direct democracy specifically because they feared children might overhear news shows discussing whether porn actors should wear condoms.
Jessica Levinson, a Loyola law professor who assigns an election-law textbook that is shorter than this year's voter's guide, says our democracy has run amok. "People say, 'I never know who to vote for.' Then we say, 'O.K., we'll let the governor appoint them.' Then they say, 'I don't trust the governor to do that.' Voters have a lot of faith in themselves," she says. That's because of the illusory-superiority bias, which also makes everyone think they're an above-average driver and an above-average understander of the Wikipedia entry on "illusory superiority."
When I asked Levinson if she knew who she was voting for in the Susan Jung Townsend–vs.–Javier Perez race for County Superior Court Judge seat 84, she said she didn't yet, since she scheduled from 8:45 to 10:45 a.m. on Sunday to make a spreadsheet to determine her choices. Likewise, I asked Mike Murphy, Republican political consultant and member of the board of advisers for the nonpartisan voter information site BallotReady.org, if he'd made all his selections for his L.A. ballot. "Hell, no. I do some late web searching on the big stuff and then either vote party line, skip or vote for the candidate with the hardest-to-spell name," he said, following a policy of helping out those unfairly disadvantaged. "When in doubt, I go old-school American politics and just vote— in nonparty elections — for the Irish guy." This is the kind of voter behavior that will one day lead to the terrifying reign of Board of Equalization member Siobhan O'Isthmus.
To explain each of the 17 state ballot initiatives, Kim Alexander, founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, released her seventh Proposition Song; this one is over five minutes long. "This ballot has something for everyone," she told me. "We have drugs and guns and pot and porn and the death penalty." And yet, for reasons that must have to do with her ukulele skills, she did not record it as a rap song.
Alexander told me that one problem with distributing 10.8 million copies of a voter's guide in 10 languages is that many candidates can't afford to pay the fee to the state required to print their statement, so they leave it blank. She told me that the state fee for a candidate's 250-word statement is $6,250. For a mere rounding error, they could afford my rate. I had no doubt I could totally beat prose such as "Susan Jung Townsend is the experienced, dedicated and competent choice for Superior Court Judge." Writing for the voter's guide would be my lifeboat out of journalism.
The last item on my ballot is District Measure GG, in which people in my neighborhood would pay $35 a year for 10 years to maintain our mountains, which seems less like a ballot measure and more like a door-to-door candy sale. The pro argument in the voter guide is co-written by five people, one of whom is the actor Ed Begley Jr. He told me the writing gig was really easy, and that he was getting some good response on his other piece in the voter's guide against City Measure RRR. "I'm hoping to weigh in on a lot of measures. I think it's going to be a good career move," he said. He figured if I wrote some, he'd attach his name and we'd both get a boost.
What I really want, though, is to write an intro for the next voter's guide. Sam Mahood in the Secretary of State's office said he'd keep me in mind. Then he added: "Everyone is on staff under government salary so they're not getting a by-the-word fee." Sure, for now. Until I get a ballot initiative passed that says otherwise.