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Friday, July 25, 2003

Correction: In the post below, I state that you cannot vote for a replacement if you do not vote for the recall. This is incorrect. You can vote against the recall and also vote for Issa or whomever.

Also, think about one other thing. Davis cannot be on this ballot. But, in order for him to retain his legally obtained office, more than 50% of the voters in this election must vote against the recall. The replacement, however, can win with a plurality. So, in effect, 49% of the voters could vote for Davis by voting against the recall, yet Darrell Issa could actually become the governor with only 33% of the vote.

This is the democracy we want to export all around the world?

Recall Madness

I'm actually a bit surprised that Kevin is even considering voting for the recall, because while the scheduled recall election is a done deal, the result is far from certain. The vote is whether to recall Davis. Only if you vote for the recall are you allowed to vote for Davis' replacement. If Kevin decides that this is a good opportunity to replace Davis with someone more to his liking then his vote will count as a support of the recall process as much as a vote for Dick Riordan. That seems to me to be a huge mistake and one that overlooks the much bigger issues at stake.

This unprecedented recall election is not actually about Davis vs. Issa/Schwartzenegger/Simon or somebody better. It's about whether it is acceptable that some rich guy finances a petition drive (with paid signature gatherers) in order to overturn an undisputed legal election so that he might get himself (or somebody else) elected with far fewer votes instead. It's of a piece with some other nasty political shenannigans we've seen recently --- like impeachment over a blowjob, refusing to count legal votes in Florida and redistricting whenever you get enough votes to do it. These things are chipping away at our system in ways that can potentially cause disaster in the not too distant future. When you start screwing with the actual levers of democracy --- the predictablity of elections, the integrity of the electoral system and a universal acceptance of the results, you have a big problem on your hands.

This is not the theoretical "oh what's the use" kind of common griping about how politics are making people apathetic. This is the actual, literal manipulation of the electoral system. The principle that "the guy who gets the most votes wins the office for a set term" is really becoming subject to debate.

And as for Davis, it behooves everybody to remember that (regular) elections are about choosing between the candidates who are offered. If you remember that, you should also remember who the Republicans offered the people of California in the last two elections -- Dan Lundgren and Bill Simon. Given those choices again today, can any Democrat say that we shouldn't have voted for Davis? Should the GOP be allowed to rectify their mistake (and not incidentally bypass their own hardline right wing) by basically just calling for a new election for no other reason than that they can?

Now, many Democrats argue that the Democratic Party shouldn't have nominated Davis either, but that is very easy to say in retrospect. I'm sure all parties regret nominating a politician who becomes unpopular. But at this point in history, it's almost suicidal to sanction throwing out the certified results of any undisputed and orderly election process in favor of street corner petition appeals to emotion. Because if anyone thinks that this will be an isolated incident, not to be repeated, they are not paying attention to recent history. After all, the GOP had no problem impeaching a popular President and if the rules of the Senate had only required that a plurality vote could have replaced him with a Republican, you can be sure they would have convicted and removed him as fast as you can say Trent Lott.

This recall in California is just the most recent example of GOP power politics in action and it is only logical to assume that they will be emboldened to continue in this vein (and that the Democrats will have no choice but to join in) if the people reward this type of manipulation merely because, in this instance, the guy who won the last election has a low approval rating.

(And, by the way, Governors all over the country are showing low approval ratings, particularly second termers who are being blamed for the economic woes of their states. It can't all be because Gray Davis is creepy. Clearly, something bigger is happening. Throwing away the principle of scheduled elections on the dubious notion that somebody could do better in this environment doesn't seem to me to be a very good trade-off.)

If this recall succeeds, it will be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle. It is always possible to gather 12% of those who voted in the last election to sign such a petition because there was always a losing candidate in the previous election whose supporters could be persuaded to sign up for a mulligan.

If it succeeds, therefore, I've decided that I will sign up on the very first day to work for the Committee to Recall Darryl Issa/Arnold Schwartzenegger/Bill Simon or whoever because it will be obvious that this is a situation that requires both parties to suffer from the loophole for it to be closed (as with the independent counsel law which stood until both parties paid the price for its unconstitutional, undemocratic lack of accountability.) We will have no choice but to literally illustrate for the people of California why this concept is costly and absurd and why it is necessary to have regularly scheduled elections and honor the results of the returns short of criminal behavior.

(And, don't ever think that Gray Davis will walk quietly into the sunset. Whether you like him or hate him, it is indisputable that he is one of the toughest, streetfighting politicians in the country. He will hit back with everything he has.)

It seems to me that democracy, like most everything else in life, depends more upon the good will and honorable intentions of the people than explicit laws and official prohibitions. If we truly begin to believe that politics are nothing more than a partisan zero sum game, in which no overarching philosophical view of the democratic process rules our decisions --- and if winning at all cost, whether through loopholes in the law or parsing of the legal meaning of election statutes becomes standard operating procedure, then we are basically giving up the idea of citizenship and a non-partisan electoral process. This is not what we need in this era of post modern media manipulation and big money influence.

All we citizens really have is the franchise. If we continue to let them do end runs around election results, we will wake up one morning and find that it no longer means anything.

*(Here is a nice rundown of the California Recall Law. One thing that really fries me is that you don't have to already be registered to vote in order to vote for the recall --- you can register up to 15 days before the election. This means that even though I voted in the last election like a good citizen, somebody who didn't even bother to register, much less vote, can come in and overturn the results less than a year later. This is the kind of thing that makes even a political junkie like me wonder if it really makes any difference if I vote at all.)