Escondido, CA
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Voting by districts is ‘asinine,’ and other observations on election laws

 

 

This week, I want to expound on two election-related subjects; the first of which I will be “railing.” My comments about each of these two are after the facts, but discussions about each of them occur frequently. So, at the risk of being labeled politically “incorrect,” here goes.

Voting By Districts

It is this contentious matter of mandatory voting by districts — forced upon the City of Escondido and its city council elections, and the two local school boards to avoid a lawsuit. I suggest it was asinine. Heretofore, council members and members of the Escondido Union High School and Escondido Union Elementary School district boards were elected at-large. But, in 2014, the law was changed, dividing the city into four separate voting districts (the mayor is still elected at-large) and dividing each of the school districts into five separate voting wards to elect their five members.

But the change was forced – not to gain representation from specific neighborhoods, because the city, nor the school districts, have never been partitioned as such, like San Diego for example (i.e., La Jolla, Point Loma, Hillcrest, Rancho Bernardo). No, the change was forced in an attempt to ensure the probability of the election of a specific ethnic minority – a Latino – to those three governing bodies. One voting district in each of those government entities was gerrymandered to ensure a preponderance of Latino constituents, thus increasing the probability that a Latino might be elected to that seat.

Let’s hark back to the 2014 city council election, the first year the new law was in place. The district designated for the Latino “seat” was one of two districts in which elections were held. The incumbent council member – an Anglo – whose residence was within the new district and who originally had been elected at-large to a four-year term, filed to run for the seat. He was elected!

But the council already had a Latino member – Olga Diaz – who had been elected at-large before the new law became effective. She faces re-election this November under the district-voting format. Ms. Diaz is perceived by Mayor Sam Abed, an ethnic minority himself (he is a native of Lebanon), as a political opponent. Here’s where this really gets politically interesting. The mayor personally recruited a Latino gentleman – I assume to be of the same political persuasion as the mayor – to run against Ms. Diaz.

So, regardless of who is elected in that district – whether the mayor’s candidate wins or loses – there still will be a Latino member on the city council. But he or she will not be a representative of the Latino “seat.”

Why do I say it was asinine? Well, get this: The city’s population of approximately 150,000 (of which 104,000 is of voting age, according to the 2010 census) is 49 percent Latino – or about 73,500! And we had to create one small, piddling district in an attempt to provide an easier opportunity for a Latino to be elected? It seems to me that 73,500 would be a sizeable political muscle in any arena. I have no idea how many of that total is of voting age or how many might be registered voters, but even if only half that amount were eligible to vote, that’s still a lot of muscle.

Another thing: Dividing the city into voting districts drastically reduces the number of voters selecting an individual candidate. As of September 1 the number of registered voters in the City of Escondido was 59,844 (I checked with the county registrar of voters). Let’s round that up to 60,000; divided by four (the number of districts in the city) puts approximately 15,000 voters in each district. Let’s say only half (7,500), but probably only about 30 percent (4,500) go to the polls each election. Makes you wonder what happened to all the voters. Asinine!

This is kind of an aside to all this, but when you consider that of the city’s 104,000 residents of voting age, 60,000 of them are registered to vote, that leaves 44,000 who are unregistered. Incredible! Why? I imagine that apathy is the primary reason. But, 44,000? Again, all I can say is: Incredible!

Languages On Election Ballots

I wonder how many people know that California election ballots are printed in six additional languages other than English? That’s right: They are Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog (language of the Philippines) – foreign languages printed on election ballots in an English-speaking country! Presumably to make it easier for immigrants who have become naturalized citizens to vote.

It is said that we are a nation of immigrants. And, we are. Our nation could not have become what it is today if it were not for immigrants. To become a citizen of the United States, an immigrant must have some semblance of the English language to pass the citizenship test. It should be obvious that becoming more proficient in English will be beneficial to the immigrant.

Several years ago, I was the inspector on the election board at Escondido’s Conway School precinct for six consecutive federal elections over three years – three primary elections and three general elections. Not once, repeat not once, in any of those six elections was a ballot other than in English requested. And, remember, Escondido’s population is almost 50 percent Latino. What a waste to have printed all those foreign-language ballots, and have them unused. Yes, I know it’s the state law.

I know that none of those ballots were used because, as the precinct inspector, I was required to count all the ballots before the poll opened and again after the poll closed, and note the figures accordingly.

I am fully aware that Escondido and the Conway School precinct are not as culturally diverse as the metropolitan areas of San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. But that does not change my thinking about the question of whether to print election ballots in a language other than English in this predominantly English-speaking country.

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Ron Kenney, a 60-year resident of Escondido, was a reporter and editor for the former Daily Times-Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.

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