Voting Angst

2016 Talk­ing Heads

Pol­i­tics makes me sick. Lit­er­al­ly. On elec­tion day in 2016, I woke up feel­ing nau­seous. I blew break­fast mid-morn­ing and ripped through a series of dry heaves that after­noon.  Exhaust­ed, I col­lapsed on our liv­ing room recliner.

I’m real­ly sick,” I told my wife as we watched the elec­tion cov­er­age. “I must have food poisoning.”

I don’t think so,” Cindy said. “We both ate the same things. Maybe it’s the election.”

I stared at the obnox­ious talk­ing heads yam­mer­ing away on the tele­vi­sion screen and thought she might be on to something.

We live in Cal­i­for­nia. It’s basi­cal­ly a one-par­ty state. The Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can Par­ty has been on life sup­port for a decade. By 2016 there were more Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers reg­is­tered as Unaf­fil­i­at­ed than as Repub­li­cans. Demo­c­rat vic­to­ries became so rou­tine that even the Demo­c­rat-con­trolled state leg­is­la­ture got bored with the process. To cre­ate com­pet­i­tive con­tests in Novem­ber, it amend­ed Cal­i­for­nia elec­tion laws to pit the top two vote-get­ters in the open pri­maries, almost always Democ­rats, against each oth­er in the gen­er­al election.

You might think like-mind­ed can­di­dates from the same par­ty would run clean cam­paigns. Think again. In 2012, redis­trict­ing forced two Demo­c­rat incum­bents to run against each oth­er for the 30th Dis­trict of the House, which cov­ers the San Fer­nan­do Val­ley where I live. Hav­ing served ten terms, Howard Berman was Chair­man of the House For­eign Affairs Com­mit­tee. Brad Sher­man had served sev­en terms and sat on the same committee. 

Brad Bul­lies Howard

Good friends when the cam­paign start­ed, they shared almost iden­ti­cal vot­ing records. Unable to find much to dis­agree about on pol­i­cy, their pitch to the vot­ers quick­ly devolved into increas­ing­ly bit­ter per­son­al attacks, cul­mi­nat­ing in a tele­vised phys­i­cal alter­ca­tion on the debate stage at Pierce Col­lege. When Howard accused Brad of being “delu­sion­al,” he lost it. Brad crossed the stage, grabbed Howard by the shoul­ders, and jammed his nose in his face. “You want to get into this?” he shout­ed. A sheriff’s deputy and the debate mod­er­a­tor jumped between them and pulled Brad away. 

Brad’s cam­paign man­ag­er claimed Howard start­ed it by step­ping toward Brad in a threat­en­ing man­ner. It strained creduli­ty. Resem­bling a bald-head­ed Big Bird, Brad is taller and thir­ty pounds heav­ier than Howard and Howard was 71 years old at the time. Despite the tele­vised assault, Brad won by twen­ty points, send­ing poor Howard to the polit­i­cal bone­yard. A har­bin­ger of things to come. 

The pukey con­test in 2016 was the nation­al Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Hillary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump ran relent­less­ly neg­a­tive cam­paigns with her bas­ket of deplorables and his ral­ly chants of “Lock her up.” I felt like a rat poised at the head of a T‑shaped Skin­ner Box with both met­al bars at oppo­site ends of the T set to deliv­er a high volt­age shock no mat­ter which lever I pulled.

On elec­tion night, I thought my angst about that god-awful choice had made me sick, but my upset stom­ach turned out to be an ear­ly symp­tom of an infect­ed gall blad­der that spent the next two months try­ing to kill me. The doc­tors cut it out on Christ­mas Eve and I ful­ly recov­ered, but with next Tues­day rolling inex­orably toward us, my nau­sea has returned. Since my gan­grenous gall blad­der is long gone, the 2020 elec­tion seems the like­ly cul­prit this time.

My queasi­ness began with California’s new vot­ing process. The state mailed bal­lots to all vot­ers this year so we could vote with­out risk of expo­sure to Covid at a polling place. We can mail our bal­lot or deliv­er it to a Cal­i­for­nia drop box at des­ig­nat­ed civic locations.

In a des­per­ate attempt to increase their vot­er turnout, the small band of remain­ing Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­cans cre­at­ed their own bal­lot box­es, labeled them “Offi­cial,” and placed them in strate­gic loca­tions across the state. The Democ­rats went bal­lis­tic. The state Attor­ney Gen­er­al, Xavier Becer­ra, a Demo­c­rat, launched an investigation.

The Repub­li­cans defend­ed their box­es as per­mis­si­ble “bal­lot har­vest­ing.” The Demo­c­rat-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture passed a law sev­er­al years ago allow­ing cam­paign work­ers and par­ty offi­cials to col­lect bal­lots from vot­ers and take them to the polls. Repub­li­cans screamed bloody mur­der at the time, accus­ing Democ­rats of legal­iz­ing vot­er fraud, but this year they appar­ent­ly decid­ed to push the enve­lope of the new rules by har­vest­ing bal­lots in pri­vate drop boxes. 

Becer­ra filed suit seek­ing a cease and desist order, and the Repub­li­cans are fight­ing the case. They removed the “Offi­cial” label, but they insist the box­es oth­er­wise com­ply with the law. As I write this, thou­sands of bal­lots are sus­pend­ed in legal lim­bo inside those boxes.

Worse yet, a cre­ative soul invent­ed a new vot­er sup­pres­sion tech­nique based on the design of the real Cal­i­for­nia drop box­es. The state con­struct­ed them with heavy met­al so no one could pen­e­trate them and tam­per with the bal­lots. Know­ing that, an arson­ist in Bald­win Park jammed burn­ing paper through the bal­lot slot. While smoke belched from the mouth of the box, cit­i­zens on the scene couldn’t break into it to res­cue its con­tents. By the time the fire depart­ment cut it open with a met­al saw, more than a hun­dred bal­lots had burned to a crisp. Elec­tion offi­cials are try­ing to fig­ure out how to iden­ti­fy the vot­ers and give them replace­ment bal­lots. Good luck with that.

Jack­ie Lacey and George Gascon

Even if I man­age to cast my bal­lot safe­ly, my vote won’t make much dif­fer­ence. Most of the con­tests are lop­sided; their out­comes fore­gone con­clu­sions. The only dogfight is the race for LA Coun­ty Dis­trict Attor­ney. The incum­bent, Jack­ie Lacey, is the first woman and first African Amer­i­can to serve in that posi­tion since its cre­ation in 1850. She’s run­ning on her two-term record. Her chal­lenger, George Gas­con, is a for­mer LAPD Assis­tant Chief and for­mer San Fran­cis­co Dis­trict Attor­ney, who sup­ports police reform and the elim­i­na­tion of cash bail.

BLM cell phone pho­to of David Lacey

Lacey looked like a shoo-in until she got cross­wise with Black Lives Mat­ter. Upset with some of her deci­sions not to pros­e­cute police offi­cers accused of racial vio­lence, forty BLM pro­test­ers gath­ered in front of her home before dawn on March 2 and shout­ed for her to come out­side. When she didn’t respond, three of their lead­ers went to the front door and rang the door­bell. Lacey’s hus­band came to the door bran­dish­ing a gun. “I will shoot you,” he said. “Get off my porch.” Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra filed crim­i­nal mis­de­meanor charges against him, and BLM lead­ers filed a civ­il suit alleg­ing assault and inflic­tion of emo­tion­al dis­tress. The race is now a toss-up.

The 2020 pres­i­den­tial con­test presents anoth­er high volt­age Skin­ner Box. Trump says Biden is a crook who’s lost his mar­bles. Biden says Trump is a crook who nev­er had any mar­bles in the first place. The way things have gone so far in 2020, they’re both prob­a­bly right.

Bel­li­cose Brad

Mean­while, Brad Sher­man is coast­ing to reelec­tion in my dis­trict for his thir­teenth term. I’ve vot­ed against Bel­li­cose Brad four times since he beat up on old Howard. I’m vot­ing against him again this time but it won’t do any good. He seems des­tined to be my rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Wash­ing­ton until one of us dies. Noth­ing per­son­al, but I hope he kicks the buck­et first.

This morn­ing I marked, sealed, and signed my bal­lot, drove to the Cal­abasas City Hall drop box, looked around furtive­ly for arson­ists lurk­ing in the weeds, then shoved my vote through the slot.

I haven’t thrown up yet, but it’s not over. With the uncer­tain­ties of the process and both pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns gear­ing up for legal chal­lenges, I’ll be chug­ging Pep­to Bis­mol all the way to Inau­gu­ra­tion Day.


Post­script: Appar­ent­ly, I’m not alone. The Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion report­ed last week that 68% of Amer­i­can adults cur­rent­ly suf­fer from Elec­tion Stress Dis­or­der. Symp­toms include loss of sleep, sud­den irri­tabil­i­ty, and, of course, an upset stomach.