Category Archives: Politics

100 Years Too Long

On election day let’s gather round as Californians and celebrate for a moment how important our voices are and that the be heard. How important our massive crop of electoral votes are and how influential they are in selecting the next leader of the Free World. Let’s also consider whether any of that is the case.

Many have argued that the electoral college system undervalues the votes of people in highly-populated states, with small (low-population) states having more electors per capita than large (high-population) states. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the actual effect of how California uses our piece of the pie. To take an arbitrary round number, let’s take a look back at the past 25 presidential contests from 1916 to 2016. A full century of results that encompass many shifts in norms, changes in party policies, and societal development. Pardon the table.

YearWinnerOur PickOur VotesWinning Margin
1988H.W. BushH.W. Bush47315
1992B. ClintonB. Clinton54202
1996B. ClintonB. Clinton54220
2000W. BushGore545
2004W. BushKerry5535
2016trumpH. Clinton5577

A pattern emerges. For every election in which California’s votes went to the winner, the race was won by more electoral votes than California contributed. In each case, had California simply not selected our electors the results would have stood.

In which of those years would flipping California have changed the outcome? Flipping a state is a big deal; not only do you deny your opponent those electors but you gain them yourself. Remove from consideration the elections that didn’t go with California (1960, 1976, 2000, 2004, and 2016). Those races would have gone the same way with the winner getting extra votes. If California had flipped in 1916 Charles Evan Hughes would have been elected. If we had flipped in 1976 Gerald Ford would have been re-elected.

I propose we Californians calm down a bit about how the presidential vote gets tallied this year and in the foreseeable future. For presidential election purposes we are a protectorate, a non-voting territory that acts as a campaign piggy bank and little more. This isn’t a partisan matter. Republicans and Democrats alike have no cause to care about your vote at the top of the ticket.

The Responsibilities of the Powerful


In light of all the talk about violence involving police officers recently, let’s fire up the way-back machine and look at what Ramon Llull had to say back in the 13th century about the people who were expected to wield the government’s monopoly on force:

“Item, office of knighthood is to maintain and defend widows, maidens, fatherless and motherless bairns, and poor miserable persons and pitiable, and to help the weak against the stark, and the pure against the rich; for oft-times sick folk are, by more stark than they, beaten and robbed, and their goods taken, and put to destruction and poverty, for fault of power and defence.

“For right as the hewing axe is ordained to cut down trees that hinder ploughing of lands, and carts and chariots and merchandises to pass through the forests, so is the sword of knighthood ordained to cut away and destroy the wicked unworthy weeds and vines of thorns of evil men that hinders labourers, merchants, traitors to travel through the world which is as a forest and wilderness when it is not well tended; of the which evil men should be weeded out by knights, keepers of the law, that good men might live in shelter; and he that is a knight, and does not this, but does even the contrary, should be taken by the prince, or by other worthy, faithful, and honourable knights, and put till dead.

“For when a knight is a reaver, or a thief, or a traitor or a murderer, or a lollard, schismatic or heretic, or in such crimes openly known and proved, then he is unworthy to live, but to be punished in example of others that defoul that most noble and worthy order and abuse it against the points and the properties of that order.”

Hat tip to Gilbert of Hay by way of False Machine for the translation.

This all predates the Lockean notion of the social contract, but strikes me as largely compatible with it. Society-in-general delegates a portion of its collective power to a few individuals who in turn promise to shoulder a greater portion of society’s responsibilities. That nice strong man in blue is supposed to protect those who cannot protect themselves. If he takes to beating and robbing the people, taking their goods and destroying their property, it is of paramount importance that the other men in blue stop him, that they publicly stop him, punish him, and show that the public’s trust is well-placed. Otherwise the social contract is in breach and the public must seek remedy.

Pondering Measure Q

If there’s one item on my November ballot that has rustled my jimmies, it has to be Santa Rosa’s Measure Q. Q proposes to take the seven-member city council, traditionally elected as at-large representatives of the entire city, and divvy them up into separate districts to represent the various neighborhoods and constituencies of various parts of town. They will continue to select a mayor from among themselves, and will continue to server four-year terms.

There are two leading arguments that I have seen put forward by the “no” camp here, both in the form of newspaper articles and push-polls I’ve received at home. Quoted from yesterday’s Press Democrat:

First of all, Measure Q takes away 85 percent of your current votes for members of the City Council. This stifles your political voice, not enhances it as proponents claim.

Second, you now have the ability to vote for all seven council members. If you vote for Measure Q (district elections), you will not be able to vote for six other council members. Consequently those six will no longer be accountable to you. This undermines your influence as a citizen, not enlarges it as the proponents claim.

The stickler in me that perks up whenever numbers come into play immediately sees this as a steaming pile of bullshit. If you reduce my ability to vote for city council members from 7 members to one member, that leaves me with a little over 14% of my number of voted-for council members. So your two arguments for me are that I only get 1/7th of the power and furthermore, in addition to that, I get my voting power reduced by 85%? That’s just repeating one argument twice. This may be nit-picking, but I don’t appreciate being spoken to with those kind of patronizing smokescreen tactics when I’m entrusted with legislative responsibility over my community at the polls.

The more substantial problem with this line of reasoning is that while a resident of Santa Rosa has normally been able to vote for candidates for all seven Council positions, the 2010 census shows my vote is competing with some 167,814 other opinions. So overall I have 7/167815ths of a say in who our representatives are. Split that up into districts as proposed by Measure Q and my voting power becomes, ostensibly, 1/23973rd. No change in the prima facia potency of my ballot. Instead of 7 extremely-watered-down votes, I get one somewhat-less-watered-down vote.

To get a little more practical, in 2008 there were eleven candidates running for four open positions. In 2010 there were seven candidates running for three open positions, some of whom also ran in 2008. In 2012 there are seven candidates contending for four open positions. It’s pretty clear that we don’t have a rough time scrounging up two or more candidates for every open position under the existing system. I consider that a good thing, your mileage may vary.

Trying to stay practical, different segments of the population vote at different rates. Elderly, educated white people are more likely to vote than younger minorities with less education. There are a thousand demographic divisions one could look at, but generally speaking the portions of the population most likely to vote, and thus more likely to see their interests reflected in the City Council Elections tend to be clustered in a section of town that can be broadly describes as the north-east quarter. Most of our Council members in recent decades hail from that area. People who live in the North-west are more likely to vote than their counterparts in the less affluent South-west, and would see their voting power decreased somewhat. Meanwhile everybody else that is already in the habit of casting a ballot will see their per-capita voting power increase.

Regarding the ancillary argument that district representation would lead to intra-Council division and strife, delaying projects that are in the whole city’s interest, it seems to me this has always been the case and likely always will be. Many cities use district representatives successfully, and there is little indication that at-large representation is of any benefit at all.

As somebody who doesn’t live in a bastion of high election participation, Measure Q appears to be in my self interest.

Full text of Measure Q (PDF)