Connie Chung: The Abused Voter

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A woman holding a plate of sea food.
 (Courtesy of Connie Chung)

The explosion of the initiative process has nearly turned voters into alternative legislators and despite her efforts to cast informed votes Connie Chung worries about what she doesn’t know.

The Saturday before Election Day in 2013, my friend Johanna and I were on the grass outside City Hall, reviewing our ballots and researching propositions, just as we had dutifully done in every San Francisco election since we turned 18. There was one measure where we were asked about permitting condo development near the Embarcadero. After some indecision and debate, we decided to take BART over to the waterfront and see for ourselves what the spot was like. We got there, concluded the current use was a waste, and came back to vote, patting ourselves on the back for our due diligence and civic engagement.

Almost 10 years, a more demanding job, three kids, and 400 state ballot measures on kidney dialysis later, I no longer feel the same sense of accomplishment when voting. I find myself abstaining on more and more initiatives with each new ballot. Part of this is because I have less time to research.

But what I really think is behind the disengagement is that I now know what I don’t know about governance. Would I like Great Highway to be pedestrian and biker friendly? Sure. Do I know the implications of diverting traffic or usage patterns? Nope!

This takes expertise that I’m not going to figure out in an afternoon. No ballot parties, voter guides or site visits to proposed condo development locations will give me the understanding of city and budget planners. My state legislators and city supervisors should be the ones to listen to experts and community members, make these decisions, and own the consequences.

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Our proposition systems, and the ease at which anyone, particularly special interests, can put things on the ballot has put the complex job of public policy on voters who are not fully informed, or may not be paying attention. It needs to be revisited so legislatures will do the job they were elected to do.

Please. California. San Francisco. Just let me vote on reps to decide these things. And then ask me for my opinion less.

With a Perspective, I’m Connie Chung.

Connie Chung is a native San Franciscan working in tech.