Maggie Van Ostrand
a reason U.S. elections take place right after Halloween -- politicians
figure we're so scared already by creepy haunted houses, doorbell-ringing
Draculas, and rubber-masked Osamas, that we're already psyched out
and primed to vote. That must be why candidates are getting scarier
In the far past, we voted for the candidates who told us what they
stood for, how they'd solve existing problems, and what their plans
were to prepare for the future. They also wrote their own speeches.
Not any more. Today, we're given a choice of candidates who make such
vicious statements about their opponents, one wonders if Joan Rivers
might be their speech writer. So much dirt is slung around that the
candidates have no ground left to stand on.
If they were honest, they'd say something like, "Vote for me now and
forever, baby, and just for you, I promise to name an Alaskan bridge-to-nowhere
after myself." Then again, most politicians suffer from ethics deprivation.
What choice does today's voter have except to vote for the candidate
they dislike least? We don't really want any of them, but we have
no inspirational leaders running for office.
There are probably honest politicians out there, but we never read
or hear anything about them. We can no longer believe what we read
in the papers or on the net because what is called "news" is either
slanted to serve a purpose other than that of all the people, or scandalous
goings-on leaked to the public in the nick of election time. Actually,
we can't even trust "leaks" any more, since often scandalous items
are leaked on purpose to destroy an opponent or sway public opinion.
Occasionally, these stories might even have some truth to them. But
which ones? As Winston Churchill said, "A lie gets halfway around
the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."
We have politicians in Washington so egomaniacal that they stick a
bridge to nowhere named after themselves at the end of an important
bill, to insure passage. How sick is that? The people end up paying
for parks and highways named after politicians. What, we have no heroes
to name bridges, parks and highways after? What about naming naming
them after the brave men of Flight 93? Or some of the 9/11 firefighters?
Or Congressional Medal of Honor winners? What a idea. But no, naming
big time projects is not up to us, is it? We just pay for them.
Voting on the issues isn't much less scary either. In California,
members of both parties once voted for a cut in auto insurance rates
and it passed. However, the infamous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
overturned the voters' wishes. Gee, do you think maybe the insurance
companies hired a gift-bearing lobbyist? "What's that big, wooden
Trojan horse doing outside the capitol?" "Never mind, it's full of
booze and vacations and girlie girls." "Oh, cool, then wheel it in."
Californians also once voted for a state lottery, largely because
a portion of the money was to go to schools. Voters didn't know then
that for every lottery dollar given to a school, that same amount
was deducted from state funding. So when we pay property taxes, what
happens to the money supposedly going to schools? Who gets it now?
Bring in that Trojan horse.
An issue voted on and passed in the last election apparently had a
loophole rendering useless the will of the people. The item is up
for a repeat vote on November 7th, so the people are forced to vote
again for the same thing they thought they'd passed before. For all
we know, the courts may eventually overturn it as a matter of habit.
Or Trojan horses.
It sure do take the fun out of going into the voting booth. Some die
hards are still counting 2002 ballot chads in Florida. Various counties,
townships, states, have different voting apparatus than others, leaving
unanswered questions when it comes time to see who won. Why can't
we go back to the days where they gave you a paper ballot, you went
into a private, curtained booth, checked off what you wanted, and
placed your folded ballot into a locked box? There were no chads to
count, and count again. And again. That was back when dead people
didn't cast votes, and nobody from the media grabbed your arm on the
way out of the polling place to ask how you voted. It was private.
We didn't know who won until the results were actually in. Those were
the days. Of course, we had Harry Truman then; too bad we don't have
him now, dead or alive.
No wonder fewer people than ever are actually voting, and many of
those who do vote send in absentee ballots, whether they're absent
or not. It's a road back to the old, successful paper-and-pencil vote.
When did the people ever vote for computerized machines that call
every vote into question? Whose bright idea was that anyway, horror
master Wes Craven's?
Pamphlets issued by the local and Federal governments are supposed
to simplify for voters the issue at hand. Instead, they appear to
be designed to confuse. Who writes them, political terrorists? First
the pamphlets lay out for us, in the least understandable terms possible,
what's at stake. Then there's a rebuttal, followed by a rebuttal to
the rebuttal. What? A few years ago, we took the time to figure out
that a "no" vote actually meant "yes," and that, if we voted "no,"
the project would proceed at taxpayer expense. So if you wanted "no,"
you pressed "yes" on the voting machine. How can voters possibly be
expected to spend so much time trying to figure out what is meant
by what is written. It's not Trick or Treat, it's Trick or Trick.
Why can't they be straightforward and say what they mean?
"Plain English Campaign," an organization based in Derbyshire, England,
is calling for clarity in writing. Clarity would certainly come in
handy this election year as we're reading those voter pamphlets that
How are we supposed to know that the parts with lines through them
mean they are current law, and the parts with lines under them mean
that's what we're voting on? Even if we get on the internet and research
through the websites of local, state or federal government, there's
no guarantee Einstein could've understood the explanation.
Here's a sample paragraph by the Attorney General of the State of
Washington which is supposed to explain to the voters how their pamphlet
"29.81A.040 The text of each measure accompanied by an explanatory
statement prepared by the prosecuting attorney for any county measure
or by the attorney for the jurisdiction submitting the measure if
other than a county measure. All explanatory statements for city,
town, or district measures not approved by the attorney for the jurisdiction
submitting the measure shall be reviewed and approved by the county
prosecuting attorney or city attorney, when applicable, before inclusion
in the pamphlet"
Huh? Say what?
Sometimes the pamphlets are downright insulting. Take for example
California's Prop 83 on the November 7th ballot; it's called "Sex
Offenders Sexually Violent Predators. Punishment, Residence Restrictions
and Monitoring Initiative Statute." Voters who might have a problem
trying to figure out just the title, are helped along by the first
paragraph called "Analysis by the Legislative Analyst" (as if we thought
an analysis would be done by other than an analyst), which reads:
"Definition of Sex Offenses. Sex offenses are crimes of a sexual nature."
I didn't make that up. That's really what it says.
Californians, who live in an earthquake-prone state, are also being
asked to vote on whether or not to float a bond to pay for the repair
of potholes on the freeways. Pothole repairs used to be paid for out
of property taxes. What do the property taxes go for now? Bawdy parties?
Trojan horse anyone?
Every state should forget about the impossible-to-understand legalese
always used and hire a retired school teacher to tell voters in plain
English what they're voting for. Better yet, have the politicians
tell voters in plain English what they stand for.
Until that day comes, we should consider Jay Leno's definition of
politics: "Politics is actually a combination of two words: "poli,"
which means many, and "tics," which means bloodsuckers."
There's a lot to be scared of these days, and not just at Halloween.
Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
31, 2006 column