I Voted

BY MARTIN WISCKOL / STAFF COLUMNIST
Published: Oct. 12, 2014 Updated: 3:33 p.m.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed several bills this month intended to boost flagging voter engagement and participation.

Among them is a measure sponsored by state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, allowing ballots postmarked by Election Day to be tallied. Currently – and until Jan. 1 – only ballots actually delivered to the elections office by Election Day were counted. Another measure will prohibit disqualification if you sign your voter registration card with an “X” and a third will allow 16-year-olds to preregister to vote.

These are the latest of an ongoing series of measures designed to lure voters, but so far efforts have failed to stem the declining participation. Statewide turnout in the June primary hit an all-time low of 25 percent. And that’s the portion of registered voters who bothered casting ballots – if you count all of the adult citizens eligible to be registered voters, just 18 percent participated in the primary.

Orange County’s numbers were similarly dismal, 24 percent of registered voters and 17 percent of eligible adults casting ballots.

Electoral ignorance

There’s a chicken-and-egg debate about whether people become more engaged with the democratic process once they start voting – or if the engagement leads to voting. In any event, low turnout is just part of the issue. Another is the wide-ranging ignorance of our democracy and how it works.

A recent poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that just 36 percent of American adults could name the three branches of government, and 35 percent could not name a single one.

Other poll findings:

�• Only 38 percent knew Republicans control the House of Representatives. And 38 percent – I’m guessing mostly the same 38 percent – knew that the Senate is controlled by Democrats.

�• Just 27 percent knew that it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and the Senate to override a presidential veto.

�• Twenty-one percent of respondents thought a 5-4 Supreme Court decision meant the issue got sent to Congress.

“Although surveys reflect disapproval of the way Congress, the president and the Supreme Court are conducting their affairs, the Annenberg survey demonstrates that many know surprisingly little about these branches of government,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg center.

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