February 2014 - Taking a Crack at Electoral Reform

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

I’m very unhappy with Congress.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to fill this space ranting about the unfathomable incompetence of our elected representatives in Washington. I don’t know enough synonyms for “imbecilic” and “venal” to make that work.

But I am going to propose some major electoral reform. Maybe if we went about this differently, we would get better results.

I don’t understand why it isn’t a national scandal that Americans are either so cynical or so complacent about good government that the vast majority of us don’t bother to vote. The same people who would scream bloody murder if you told them you were going to pick one of their neighbors at random to organize the Fourth of July block party are too lazy to spend twenty minutes choosing people to entrust with the national fisc and the nuclear codes.

In a country founded upon outrage over taxation without representation, it is flat-out unforgivable that we have descended into taxation without involvement. How in the world can the greatest nation on earth consist of people whose collective response to democracy is “Whatever”?

It’s embarrassing. People in the Middle East and Central America are risking their lives to exercise their franchise. People in Eastern Europe are marching in the streets demanding what we have.

And we’re sitting in front of our television sets, counting Kardashians and setting our DVRs so we can watch both Duck Dynasty and the steel cage death match, lamenting the fact we’ll have to stay up ‘til midnight to squeeze both in. If it weren’t so damned tragic, it would be funny.

So what did we do? How did we try to bring out the electorate? We made it easier. You say you can’t bestir yourself for the sake of the free world? Fine. We’ll make it so you literally don’t have to move. We’ll let you mail it in.

You don’t even have to straighten your vestigial little legs. We’ll mail you a ballot, you can fill it out at your leisure and mail it back. And we’ll count it.

Criminy, you don’t even have to fill it out yourself. We can’t keep you from letting your twelve-year-old do it for you. Give her the ballot, have her read it and make the decisions.

We’re so desperate to get somebody—anybody—involved in the process that we’ll let you mail it in even though that means we have no way of being sure who is exercising the franchise. Is that pathetic or what?

So what happened? Nothing.

We still can’t get people to vote. They act like we’re asking them to eat hominy. We got more people opting for elective surgery in this country than we got voting.

deMaistre said, “People get the government they deserve.” He was clearly wrong. If the lazy electorate of this country got what it deserved, we’d long ago have been reporting to commissars and first secretaries.

As you may have noticed, this ticks me off. So ...

Herein the provisions of the Bedsworth Election Reform Initiative, to be numbered Proposition 446 or whatever number we’re up to now, and captioned—to ensure passage—The Clean Air, Crime Victims, Mom, Baseball, Apple Pie, Testosterone Enhancing, Weight Loss, Tom Hanks Loves It, and It’s Chock Full of Stuff Insurance Companies and Trial Lawyers Hate Initiative.1

Please get five registered voters—or their twelve-year-old children—to sign this column. We’ll submit it to the Secretary of State’s Office for inclusion on the June ballot.


PREAMBLE: Sections 2 through 30044 of the California Elections Code are hereby repealed.2 In their place, the People of the State of California hereby enact the following rules for elections.3

SECTION 1: For the sake of convenience the feminine pronoun is used throughout this Code to refer to both genders.4

SECTION 2: Primary elections will be held on television on the first Thursday in June, sandwiched between special broadcasts of The Voice and Downton Abbey. Voters will be allowed to tweet, text, phone, mail, or tie their vote to a carrier pigeon during the half-hour between those shows.

SECTION 3: General elections will be held on the Saturday immediately preceding Super Bowl Sunday. The broadcast signal of the football game itself will be scrambled, and no cable company or satellite provider in California will be allowed to unscramble the signal for any subscriber who does not provide proof of having voted the preceding day.

SECTION 4: No television network, radio station, wire service, newspaper, or Twitter account holder will be allowed to announce or predict the results of any general election until at least six voters have cast their ballots and left the polls.

SECTION 5: To assure voter interest, no one will be allowed to stand for election unless she:

(a) has had her own television show (broadcast or cable) within the last five years and has the cosmetic surgery bills to prove it, or

(b) has had at least three records go platinum in the last five years without being Lady Gaga, or

(c) has filed at least two lawsuits against the National Enquirer or the United States government, or

(d) has a lifetime batting average higher than her weight at the time of filing for office or was once a topless dancer, or

(e) has a demonstrated ability to outrage a significant portion of the electorate every time she opens her big, flapping mouth.

SECTION 6: To combat sexism, no one will be allowed to stand for election whose gender can be predicted by reference to their wardrobe or first name.

SECTION 7: To assure full understanding of the issues, no candidate will be allowed to include in her platform any word not found on a roadsign or heard in a Shrek movie.

SECTION 8: Reserved.5

SECTION 9: No candidate will be allowed to accept a contribution in excess of 50% of the salary of the office for which she is a candidate, unless she has selected “slimeball” as her ballot designation.

SECTION 10: Any reasoned discussion, by any candidate, for any office, of any economic issue more complex than the computation of a tip for a waiter shall be a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for a term of two, three, or four years.6

SECTION 11: No candidate will be allowed to send out more campaign mailers than she and her immediate family can deliver hopping on one foot during the lunch hour of the Tuesday preceding the election.

SECTION 12: Future bond issues and initiatives may not be longer than a haiku.

SECTION 13: Ballot statements will not be allowed. Candidates wishing voters to hear of their qualifications may station volunteers no less than 500 feet from the polling place to sing, shout, or act out their character traits to voters passing by.

SECTION 14: Row 7, seat 9.7

SECTION 15: Any candidate who receives a lower percentage of the vote in her home county than she does statewide will automatically be disqualified ... and beaten with a stick.

SECTION 16: In order to eliminate the natural advantage of incumbency, incumbents will be required to run for reelection under a different name than that by which they were elected. They will, however, as a reward for having won once, be allowed to choose any name they wish, other than that of their opponent.8

SECTION 17: Terms of office will be four years except for one officeholder per year, chosen at random, who will be taken out and shot, just for the hell of it.9

SECTION 18: All matters not covered by these rules shall be determined by a coin flip, held in the office of the Tehama County Sheriff.10

SECTION 19: Reserved.

SECTION 20: Nah, that’s enough. We don’t really need a 20.

(1) I’m sorry to have to include trial lawyers, but I’m afraid you folks are negative litmus right now. The only way to get fourteen registered voters of this state to come out in favor of something is to tell them you’re against it.
(2) Section 1 presently reads, “This act shall be known as the Elections Code.” I think we can leave that unchanged.
(3) Oh, jeez, Martha, it’s another one of those “Modest Proposal” columns; he thinks he’s Jonathan Swift again.
(4) We men lost this “him/her,” “he/she” battle long ago. I don’t know a single man who cares about pronouns. If women want ‘em, they can have ‘em.
(5) I don’t know what this is. But I noticed all the other codes have all these sections reserved for later enactments, so I thought mine ought to have those, too.
(6) Apparently, this is already the law, but I wanted to make sure.
(7) This is what it says on my ticket stub for Wicked. For those prices, I should get more than one use out of it.
(8) This is probably the key to my initiative. When people see names like Julia Roberts, Harry Potter, and Winston Churchill on the ballot, they’ll want to vote.
(9) I don’t know; I just felt it needed something to spice it up. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched The Hunger Games before writing it.
(10) That oughta pretty much make Tehama recession-proof. Now all we need is something equally effective for the other fifty-seven counties.

William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.