Category Archives: politics

did my vote count?

A month ago, I called the county registrar to make certain that I could vote in the democratic primary and confirm that I would get my absentee ballot. I couldn’t remember if I was registered democratic, independent, or green. The woman at the other end of the line told me that all was fine and that I was in the system, no worries. I took this to mean that I was registered democratic because I didn’t know at that point that independents could vote in the primary. I got my absentee ballot in the mail a few weeks later. The ballot said that it was a democratic ballot, but the pamphlet said that if you’re an independent, you have to fill in the #6 dot as well. I was uber confused by this. What would happen if I was registered democrat and filled in the #6 spot? Since I was pretty sure that I was registered democratic based on my conversation with the registrar, I decided not to fill in that extra bubble and moved straight to #9.

As election day panned out, I started hearing about “double bubble trouble” as independent voters were being given democratic ballots but not being told about the extra bubble. Worse, the silly punch machines in the democratic zone at the polling places didn’t have a section for punching that out. Midway through the day, I found out that a friend of mine didn’t vote because the absentee ballot that they sent him didn’t have a democratic section even though he’d wanted this. Then I started hearing about precincts running out of democratic ballots. And pollsters giving people the wrong ballot and not letting them void it for the right one. And on and on and on with the various chaos. So I started wondering: did I do it right? Did my vote count? (I kept the stub but I can’t figure out how to confirm whether or not my vote did count. Anyone know?)

It seems as though the problem that I was hearing was bigger than I imagined. Courage Campaign is reporting that 94,000 independent (“decline-to-state”) voters in LA are having their ballots rejected because of this problem. The registrar in charge of LA County is refusing to check these ballots by hand, thereby invalidating the intent of those voters. As a LA resident who isn’t sure if her vote counted, I’m pretty bloody peeved about this. I’m glad that the LA Sups ordered an investigation, but it seems like this should be obvious and not require external demands.

As I started fishing around to find out more information, I found something alarming. The San Francisco Chronicle originally reported that the Clinton campaign “is mystified by the Election Day complaints from the Obama team, since the rules for decline to state voters – specifically the requirement that request Democratic ballots – have been a matter of public record posted on the California Secretary of State’s web site for months.” (These quotes from the Clinton campaign were removed and the article’s title altered in the version updated 7 hours later.) I hope to god that the Chronicle’s article was changed because they inaccurately quoted the Clinton campaign.

As much as I’m a big fan of Obama, I’m a bigger fan of democracy. I believe that every vote counts, even those that disagree with me. I’m pretty annoyed that my registrar is telling reporters that voters were educated on this. I’m a very educated person who is obsessive about her right to vote and I didn’t understand the bloody ballot. As an average citizen, I don’t care that this requirement was on the website for months. And I sure as hell didn’t look to either candidate for instructions on how to fill in the ballot. Voting instructions should be clear in the instructions that I’m given. And it wasn’t. The ballot didn’t tell me what I was registered. No one at the polling place told me what I was registered. All I knew was that I had a democratic ballot, thought I was registered democratic, and voted for #9. Oh, and I did it in blue pen because I did see the instruction that only black or blue pen would count.

Please please tell me that our democracy is not so broke that people’s votes aren’t being counted in this primary. I mean, if Courage Campaign is right and 94,000 votes in LA weren’t counted, I’m scared. Then again, Chicago voters were told that broken pens have invisible ink. At least LA didn’t stoop that low.

my February 5 voting ballot: Barack Obama and CA Propositions

It’s election time. For the first time in my life, I’m excited about a primary. Why? My vote actually counts for once!! It’s kinda a weird feeling and it makes me realize how much different it would be to vote if it were all about choosing delegates rather than a winner-takes-all scenario. I ended up taking the primary pretty seriously, researching the candidates and thinking long and hard about what my choice should be.

At first, I defaulted to identity politics. I mean, I’ve been dreaming of a woman president all my life. But then a friend of mine asked me if I’d vote for Condi just to have a women president and I was like omg no. So I decided that this was irresponsible and that I should sit and think about the issues more deeply.

Problem is that the issues aren’t the issue – by and large, Barack and Hillary are on the exact same plan. Then they came to Los Angeles and one glaring difference became visible: Hillary is all about old media and Barack is all about new media. Hillary is totally in bed with big corporations (and Hollywood) and Barack embraced a lot of the innovative ideas put forward by independent startups and tech culture. This started to make me very nervous about Hillary. For me, net neutrality is a *HUGE* issue and I would hate to see the next president play nice with old media just to get some bribes.

This all started making me think about media and its relationship to the presidency. For better or worse, media plays a HUGE role in making a president and helping the president communicate to (or outright manipulate) the masses. I realized that Barack had an asset that few really thought through: Oprah Winfrey. I don’t think that Oprah can necessarily get him elected, but if he were president, what I do think that she can do is help the masses understand the decisions at play. She’s her own woman and I don’t think that the White House could ever buy her off, but if she’s invested, I strongly believe that she can help people understand sticky complex issues in an elegant way. This is going to be extremely important as we face the crisis in Iraq. Iraq is not a matter of pulling out/staying in. Both really really suck as solutions. Problem is that the mainstream discourse is binary and that’s going to make things a mess for the next president. The economy and its implications are another piece of chaos. The environment is another issue. We need a president who can communicate to the masses and get support to make difficult changes in this country. I don’t believe someone in Washington can do this alone and, damn, Oprah is about the best asset in the world for helping out.

Then I started thinking about the general election. Hillary is soooo divisive. I actually feel badly for her on this front, but I can’t ignore that reality. People love her or hate her. She has enemies everywhere. She’s going to have a hard time getting things done because of those enemies. She doesn’t motivate young people to be engaged in politics like Barack does. And, frankly, I don’t think that she can beat McCain. And that worries me. Cuz even if McCain isn’t that bad, the idea of another term of Republican machinery SCARES THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF ME.

Finally, when I was in Davos, I expected everyone to be pro-Hillary and anti-Barack because of the whole “experience” thing. I was shocked to find that this was not the case at all. Most foreign diplomats and companies thought that Barack would be much better at negotiating with foreign powers than Hillary. They all knew that the candidates would have huge advisory teams that would help them understand what was going on. Even though Hillary knew more people already, they felt as though Barack would be more effective. (And most were extremely worried about how Bill would overshadow anything with Hillary… another sad reality.)

So, I made my decision and I’m going to vote with a level of enthusiasm unprecedented in my lifetime. I donated to his campaign and I’m going to vote for Barack Obama.

California Propositions

Before leaving for Davos, I threw a proposition party so that my friends could come together and collectively decide how to vote for California Propositions. Here’s my slate for anyone who is interested (or any lazy person who wants someone to tell them how to vote). More notes over at Mindtangle.

CA Prop 91: NO (Not even the proponents are for it any longer.)

CA Prop 92: YES (This formula should’ve been redone long ago; community college is extremely important and, arguably, more important than HS ed.)

CA Prop 93: NO (I don’t like fishy changes in term limits that suit the proponents and have unclear long-term effects.)

CA Prop 94-97: NO (Gaming contracts the benefit the top tribes at the cost of the smaller ones are extremely problematic and without clear audits, it’s not clear that it will be the economic benefit that people believe.)

LA Prop S: YES (Yes, the 10% tax was illegal and so yes, this is an increase not a decrease in taxes. But the damage done by propositions in the past makes funding some of these necessary services really challenging and I strongly believe that we should modernize the phone tax and, more importantly, that companies using digital systems should pay per user not per company. This prop isn’t ideal but it’s necessary.)

The Devil Came on Horseback

After WWII, my grandfather and grandmother moved to Khartoum in what is now Sudan. My aunt was born there but they left before my mother came into the world. My grandfather often told me that political tensions were already rising when he left, but he isn’t one for talking details about these things. I’ve always been quite intrigued (and often disturbed) by what has and is happening in Sudan.

When Bich Ngoc Cao told me that i absolutely must see The Devil Came on Horseback, i decided to take a break from my current state of workaholicism to see it. Her recommendations are usually spot on and this film is mind-blowing. I knew of the atrocities in Darfur, but this film does an astounding job of really personalizing the stories of the people involved. It’s deeply disturbing, showing the horrifying images of genocide through the lens of an American Marine Captain who is assigned to document the lives of but not protect the people of Darfur. At one point, he can no longer sit by and watch and so he returns home to the States to rally American politicians. He figures that if they just knew, they would be in there to stop it. Or if the American people just knew, they would make their government do something. As we know, the tragedy in Darfur continues.

On top of the amazing depiction of what is taking place, there’s a simple message: raise a fuss, contact your politicians, make them know that you care and that you want them to do something. I am trying to convince myself to believe this could work, although i admit that i’m feeling very disillusioned with our political structure. Still, i do believe that it is important for the American people to understand what is taking place there. This is genocide and it is horrific. People are being brutally murdered because they are of the wrong race. The women are raped and tortured and people are burned alive. And, just like with Rwanda, we have turned a blind eye while China continues to fund this atrocity. I really recommend checking out this movie when it comes to your town (currently, it seems to be on the film festival circuit). Also, check out Save Darfur for more information on what’s happening in Darfur.

“Digital Handshakes on Virtual Receiving Lines”

I gave a short talk at the Personal Democracy Forum today. I put together a crib for anyone who wishes to get a sense for what i said. Very simple talk with one point: politicians should reach out and shake virtual hands with young people rather than just putting up flat profiles on social network sites. Anyhow, if you’re interested, enjoy!

“Digital Handshakes on Virtual Receiving Lines”

Los Angeles is green!

Tonight, i had the fortune of attending a Hollywood Hill event featuring Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley. She spoke about the moves LA is making to turn itself into a green city. The event took place at the home of the producer of “An Inconvenient Truth” and the room was filled with truly engaged Hollywood types invested in social change. The conversation was fantastic but what astounded me was just how many cool projects are taking place in Los Angeles.

My favorite project concerns “bio solids” (a.k.a. crap). When you flush your toilet, your feces is diverted to an old oil chamber where it is left to decompose. As this happens, the shit lets off a bunch of methane which is then converted into energy for the city. (Don’t worry – it’s clean by then.) How cool is that? Apparently, we’re the first city to really do this on a large scale.

Last year, 6% of the city’s energy came from renewable resources. By 2010, the goal is to have 20% of it coming from renewable resources. There are projects involving solar power, wind power, methane, and all sorts of other things. There are also projects underway to encourage the reduction of energy consumption. Building developers who are going to be LEED compliant have a much easier time getting their permits. There’s a group called 18 seconds working with large corporations to move everyone towards environmentally-friendly lightbulbs (lightbulbs can be changed in 18 seconds).

Apparently, in the 1990s, the city had all of these initiatives to move everyone to using low-flow toilets (giving them out for free across the city). The result was a 15% water savings. This is crucial considering LA has to get its water from all sorts of weird places. There are now initiatives underway to bring back the LA river (which was paved over in the 1930s as a flood prevention technique). This will allow more water, more green space, more bicycle lanes, and fewer movie-ified high speed car chases. There’s also a million trees initiative where the city will plant a million trees by 2010 in areas that desperately need them. Aside from being pretty, trees are critical to environmental ecosystems because they like to eat carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen.

I can’t even remember all of the other initiatives i heard about tonite but i’m in awe of how conscious our city government is about these issues, how they are engaging with environmental organizations and city planners, how they are working on multiple levels to address environmental issues in the city, and how they are working to make it a better, more liveable city. I have to admit that i haven’t been that proud to live in land-o-Hummers but this event made me feel much better about Los Angeles, or at least those in charge of the government.

Anyhow, yay Los Angeles! And now, if we can only figure out how to get community sidewalks and eyes on the street…. (And sssshh all of you haters out there.)

prisoner 24601: teenage sex offenders

If you believe in the sex offender registery (and even if you don’t), i’d really like you to read this article in the Atlantic Monthly: Why Is Genarlow Wilson in Prison?

It is the story of a 17 year old “good” kid who will spend 10 years in prison for child molestation and be forever on the sex offender registery for having consentual oral sex with a 15 year old. One of the interesting twists in this case is that this would not have been his fate had he had vaginal sex with her (oral is a felony; vaginal is a misdemeanor). This kid had no prior runins with the law; he was a football and track star, homecoming king, honor roll student. He was your picture-perfect kid who fought the law and the law won. Imagine if he was your kid.

Now, think for a moment about what it means that this sex offender list is being put to other purposes. Does this kid deserve to be banned from MySpace (or the numerous other spaces that are seeking to build restrictions based on this flawed list)? Does he deserve to be limited from living close to a school or park? Does he deserve to have to wear a tracker for life, to be permanently branded? This list is not being scrutinized; it is inherently flawed. We are punishing people over and over again. Double jeopardy was set up in the constitution so that we would not repeatedly try someone for a crime but this list is double punishment all the same. What happened to the belief that people can change that is at the root of our modern prison system? What happened to the Judeo-Christian value of forgiveness for ones sins?

The law has ruined this kid’s lives. They have made him a criminal. It is one thing to believe in justice; it is another to turn people into slaves of the law.

Now every door is closed to me
Another jail. Another key. Another chain
For when I come to any town
They check my papers
And they find the mark of Cain
In their eyes I see their fear
`We do not want you here.’

Look down, look down… you’ll always be a slave.

UCLA Police Taser a Student

Police officers at UCLA abuse their power by repeatedly taser one of their students. ::shudder:: Students videotape the entire incident, requesting identification from police who refuse to provide it. This makes me sick. Welcome to a police state.

For more information, see Blake Ross’s detailed post. Also, the LA Times covers the students’ protest and the efforts by UCLA to calm the furor by ordering an outside probe.

Prop 83 blocked in court

For those of you who didn’t obsessively watch the election results last nite, Prop 83 (the flawed sex offender one) passed 70/30. This is not at all surprising although what really gets my goat is the number of people who voted for it who didn’t realize what it did. Every time i’d bring up 83 with people, they’d tell me they were all for it. So i’d tell them what all it would do and show them the fine print. They were horrified. I’ve managed to convince everyone i’ve talked with to vote against it (except the people at the CyberSafety event who believe that anything to stop sex offenders even if you kill the baby in the process is AOK). This drives me crazy because it’s a classic example of ill-informed voters hurting everyone.

So, while i was really hoping that my message might have gotten out about 83, i knew that it was going to pass and i was prepared for that disappointment. I wasn’t prepared for the immediate blockage of 83 by the courts: “U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, ruling on a lawsuit filed here early Wednesday, said the measure ‘is punitive by design and effect’ and likely unconstitutional.” I really hope that this means that it might not go into effect because the law is so problematic and costly. It might also mean that, if it works its way up the courts, it might be blocked in other states. ::bounce::

Still, the problem stands: voters don’t read the fine print when it comes to propositions. This means that many other propositions can pass if worded in a way to capitalize on people’s fears. That REALLY upsets me and i’d like to know what to do about it.

So, all and all, it was a decent night. We have the House. Rumsfield resigned. We may get the Senate (but even if we don’t, Cheney has to be the tie-breaker which is *fascinating*). Of course, we still have the Terminator terminating education in California. And far far far too many states banned gay marriage. And the reality is that no one voted _for_ the Democrats but _against_ the Republicans which means that we really shouldn’t be celebrating per say. On the plus side, more people seemed to have come out to vote than have in a long long time. And it looks like a lot of young people came out too. But i still can’t call that a victory because more does not mean close to all.

I’m also disturbed about something else. I watched election returns until it was clear no more info on Virginia or Montana was coming in last night. I couldn’t help but think about how close the last few elections have been and how much money is being made off of election coverage. I remember being horrified when i realized that there’s fine print at the end of Reality TV shows saying that the producers have input over who gets kicked out. In short, they make sure that the results are rigged so that people want to watch the show. The last few elections have felt like that – uber close elections meant to make people like me obsessively watch TV coverage all night, nearly memorizing all of the ads (i will definitely see Bobby on Thanksgiving). Please please please tell me these close calls aren’t scripted. I really couldn’t handle that.

voting issues, take n

Remember when i said that i couldn’t vote in LA? I filed a complaint with the city about my inability to vote. I then learned that a bunch of my friends were in a similar position so i was unbelievably pissed. Luckily, i called up the nice San Francisco people and got them to emergency me an absentee and was all prepared to vote in SF. Then, late last nite, i got a call from some government official telling me that she had heard about my problem and had looked into it. She told me that i was now registered in LA and should have no problem voting. I asked if an absentee ballot was going to be rushed my way (since i’m in DC next Tuesday). She said that they had no record of me filing permanent absentee and that i had to remember to check the box. I said that i knew this and had done so on all three of my registration forms. She told me to hold on and i heard muttering and shuffling of papers in the background. I was then informed that she had my application right there and i had indeed checked permanent absentee and that she was extremely sorry. She explained that i couldn’t get an absentee ballot on time but that i could go to Culver City City Hall and vote touchscreen. She gave me detailed information and told me to call her back directly if i ran into any problem. I asked her if i could have my friends call her and she said yes.

I immediately called my friends and told them to contact her. K did so right away – i had pressured her into registering (“for her own good”) and so, when she finally decided to register, she wasn’t pleased that she never got anything back once she did. She called up the lady this morning who immediately recognized my name and took care of K, making sure she too could vote. While this is all fine and well (and i’m glad that i can vote and i’m glad that K can vote), i’m not too thrilled that there seems to be many mistakes in the registration process. How many people aren’t registered because of such oopses? Why do we even have to register? Why can’t we automatically be registered simply by being citizens? ::grumble:: And we wonder why people don’t vote.

Anyhow, i went to City Hall to vote. At first, i was pretty humored. There were people of all ages and backgrounds standing on line to do their civic duty. When i got to the front, i asked if i could use a paper ballot; they looked at me like i was the devil and told me that this was a touchscreen only station. I decided i should suck it up and figure out how this touchscreen shit works so i didn’t argue. But OMG do i not feel secure about my vote. I went in and there was a big Diebold machine laughing at me. I was given a card that i had to put into the machine so that i could click a bunch of buttons on a screen and “submit” my vote. Did it count? I have no idea. I’m not even a technophobe and i don’t trust that damn thing. One of the things that i love about voting in SF is that i have to tear off this piece of paper at the top of my ballot; that confirms my vote and i can always go back with it and say, find my vote. I’m one of those crazy people who even keeps her pieces of paper until well after the election. When i cast my ballot in SF, i get to see the machine read it and the number go up – i can always see how many people voted before me. Here in LA? I have no idea. And i’m sooo not confident about the database behind that thing. I asked if i could get a receipt for my voting and the people looked at me once again like i had horns. They said that it counted, that it was all in the computer. (Damn techno-fetishism.) I made a less-than-thrilled face. One guy say and said, here, take this and handed me a sticker. Rather than simply saying that i voted, this sticker has the gall to say “I voted touchscreen.”


For the record, i want to state that no matter how fucked up this process is (and it’s MAJORLY fucked up), it’s critical that you get out and vote and fight for others’ right to vote. Our ancestors fought to make this country a democracy. Lives were lost so that all men could vote, regardless of the color of their skin. The fight for women’s suffrage was long and hard. Still, today, there are many around the world who don’t have the privileges that we take for granted when it comes to voting. Regardless of what you believe, if you are an American, you have a civic and social responsibility to get out and vote on Tuesday. Furthermore, you have a responsibility to make certain that every citizen in this country can vote and be counted. Freedom means nothing if you aren’t willing to fight for others’ right to vote or if you aren’t willing to get off your ass and vote yourself. Vote on November 7. Be counted, be heard.

i love my country
by which i mean
i am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history
who have fought the government to make right
Ani Difranco