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California's Right to Be Ridiculous

The Recall Election Law.

by Barnabas
July 30, 2003

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California's Right to Be Ridiculous_Barnabas-The Recall Election Law.
"We have thrown a grenade into the whole political process," said Roger Hedgecock, a former mayor of San Diego and a popular conservative radio talk-show host. "People have a new avenue to take back government, and this is a very important event for that reason."

I think if you have a plan and a vision, and $3,500 and 65 signatures, you ought to be allowed to run, and it looks like a lot of people are going to be doing that.
— William Simon Jr., failed Republican candidate, 2002, referring to the state requirements for candidates to appear on the replacement ballot.

"We probably shouldn't be having so much fun," said Eva Dickson, a farmer from Nicolaus, Calif., giggling with her daughter, Kelsey. "I just got Darrell Issa's autograph. He is a nice man. He has a very honest handshake."
— Quotes from “Supporters of Recall Rally in California,” by Dean E. Murphy, The New York Times, July 27, 2003.
No, Mr. Hedgecock. The California law is not an avenue for the people taking back the government. It may be, however, an avenue for the people to give away the government to a miniscule minority.

I don’t believe, Mr. Simon, that the recall law requires anyone to have a plan and a vision. To meet the constitutional requirements for the office. $3500, and the support of .0000019 of the population are all that’s needed.

I suspect that there are at least a million voters who have a credit line of $3500 and the backing of sixty-five people who will support them, even as a gag. But let’s be at least as realistic as the writers of this law and say that only one out of ten go for it, or 100,000 candidates. Further, Let’s say you can get a hundred names on a page; that makes for a ballot of a thousand pages. Of course you cannot list the names alphabetically, because that gives the A’s and B’s too much of an advantage. The only fair thing to do is scramble the names randomly and print seven or eight different ballots.

It would take the average voter more than an hour to find the candidate desired on a thousand pages of random names. Many voters may not have a desired candidate, however, if their main purpose for voting is to get the current governor out of office; so their votes could be as random as the ballot list. If ten million voters divided their votes equally among 100,000 candidates, each candidate would get a hundred votes; so as few as 101 voters (or .00001 of the voters) could choose the next governor of California.

But it would never happen that way! The probabilities are certainly against it, but the possibility of it, as established by California law, is not an expression of pure democracy but a contravention of it. In pure democracy, a state does not allow a tiny plurality to take power; a simple majority is required. Theoretically, votes on the whole slate of candidates continue until one of them achieves a majority. That’s why democracy as we practice it is not pure. We usually agree to restrict the number of nominees in order to keep a mass election from taking years to complete. That’s why, when an elective office is vacated, there is provision for replacement. For the office of Governor, the Lieutenant Governor is usually the understudy who takes over until the next election.

Recalls may on occasion be justified. I can easily see, for example, recalling those who proposed, supported, and approved this ridiculous law.

Yes, we all have the right to be ridiculous. But if you are a legislator representing the citizenry, you do not have the right to make them ridiculous along with you.

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