As of May 31st in L.A. County, less than 500,000 ballots were returned to the registrar, while more than 5.1 million remained in voters’ hands (8%); the single-digit rate was not far removed from California’s as a whole on the final day of May 2022. Statewide, about 2 million ballots were returned for the June 7th primary, while about 20 million remained in voters’ hands (10%). For voters in central L.A. like yours truly, there were at least 32 different contests to consider, from state senator, to governor, to county judges, local city council-members, and more.
Today, our voting systems technically provide equal access to voters across categories of ethnicity, gender and age, but there’s much to be said about their providing equitable access to voters within these same categories. Consider that of the 5.1 million ballots across L.A. County still in voters’ hands, as recently as 2020, about 13% of people in the county, or 1.3 million people, were officially living in poverty. For California as a whole, as recently as 2019, at least 6.3 million people were living in poverty.
Our voting system, greatly influenced by those of the ancient Greeks and Roman empire from over two millenniums ago, continues to emulate some of their shortcomings as well; both Greek and Roman voting events barred women, enslaved people, and foreign-born citizens from participating. Today, L.A. County bars potentially 1 million undocumented folks in its boundaries from voting, while also failing to provide special privileges for voters from its most under-served communities, including women of color, single mothers, formerly incarcerated people, immigrants, and more.
It’s also evident that in the elections of the Roman empire, those whose votes counted most were the propertied class, something the Greek philosopher Aristotle identified in his Politics (350 B.C.E.) as “timocracy.” In the Roman philosopher Cicero’s Republic (from 129 B.C.), his description of the the 6th Roman King’s classification of society illuminates their ancient system further:
“[A]fter choosing a large number of knights out of the whole people, Servius divided the rest of the citizens into five classes, and separated the older from the younger. He made this division in such a way that the greatest number of votes belonged, not to the common people, but to the rich, and put into effect the principle which ought always to be adhered to in the commonwealth, that the greatest number should not have the greatest power.”Cicero, On the Republic – Book 2 (129 B.C.). Translated by C.W. Keyes (1928)
But not every facet of these older systems was so restrictive or exclusionary. For example, did you know that the Greeks actually compensated people who traveled from other towns to Athens’ center to participate in their Assemblies, or what today we would consider conferences or conventions?
With this in mind, consider that if we borrowed just 1% of Cali’s unprecedented $98 billion surplus from 2021, we’d have at least $975 million on hand, or about $154 to compensate each of approximately 6.3 million of California’s poorest voters to participate in the state’s elections. And if we took 2%, we’d have nearly 2 billion, or $309 for each of them.
From some experience, yours truly can tell you that there are far more single mothers across L.A. County and the Golden State interested in $300 than in deciding on Sacramento’s next Insurance Commissioner. But if we were to include both items in a single package, where participating in the former leads directly to the latter, the results could be game-changing for this “most democratic” state of the United States.