There’s a megastorm coming to California this fall, but not a drop of rain nor a snowflake will fall. The November election will inundate voters with a torrent of hyperbolic campaign rhetoric and big promises, a blizzard of negative advertising and a tsunami of other screeching political communications and outreach.
The intensity likely will be amplified as big money pours into several high-stakes ballot propositions, and as the frenzied fight for control of Congress brings pitched battles in a number of key districts. With good cause, many of us will ask why we are voting on some of these issues in the first place, recognizing that many initiatives are the result of special-interest money or influence.
Voters would be wise to steel themselves now against the apathy and disgust they are likely to feel as the storm surge hits. With ballots set to reach mailboxes in early October, no one will emerge completely unscathed. But Californians can prepare themselves for the onslaught and develop strategies that ensure they remain engaged.
Voter turnout in California has been on the decline or stagnant for decades. So there was relief in some quarters that the June primary drew 37 percent turnout, a mildly encouraging but still anemic bump from the 33 percent in the 2014 midterm primary. But it’s still pretty miserable for the world’s leading democracy.
A big reason voters stay away in droves is the confusion and contempt that political campaigns sow on issues and candidates. Negative and divisive campaigns often are designed to so thoroughly befuddle voters that they simply throw up their hands and throw away their ballot. The sheer volume of claims and attacks – pouring in from TV, radio, printed mailers and social media – can paralyze overwhelmed voters. Conflicting, inaccurate and downright deceptive information also drives many voters away.
The result: Important decisions about who will lead us and the policies that will govern us are left to an ever-shrinking minority. Not only does this fuel political, ideological and other divisions, it perpetuates a sense of hopelessness that we can ever make progress on the important issues of our day. It can also lead to policies rife with unintended consequences.
Knowing what’s coming is the first step in managing your participation and ensuring you don’t get turned off. Don’t wait for your mailbox or Twitter feed to fill up with campaign ads before you get informed about the issues and candidates.
Identify sources of good, objective information that you trust, whether it’s your local newspaper, respected third parties, your official voter pamphlet or your own research. Set limits on how much you consume, but do consider both sides on each issue. Decide whether you have the information to responsibly vote on every ballot proposition or candidate. Narrowing down your selections can help you filter out the noise and ensure you are well informed on those on which you vote.
Our right to vote is a precious asset and responsibility. Do your best to get informed, and of course, make sure you are registered to vote.
The storm is coming, but you can prepare for it. In the end, it will give California the strong leaders and sound policies we need to move forward.
Jim Wunderman is president and CEO of the nonpartisan Bay Area Council and a participant in The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy Influencers series. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find the series (with more Monday on where to get reliable information on the election) at sacbee.com/influencers.