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Opinion | Alabama can do much more to help voters be smarter

I spent last weekend at my dajas’ home in San Diego. I had to personally deliver a wedding present to Nicole and Sara Kate Denton, one that couldn’t be mailed.

The wedding present, a 15-week-old French Bulldog puppy named Arnold, tolerated the long flight and is adjusting well to his new humans, who also give a home to a rescue pug named Olive.

My dajas – a word meaning “daughters,” in Nicole lingo – live in a nice one-bedroom apartment in the city with lots of day- and night-life close by. They walk a lot, and so did I over my four-day weekend. Nicole and Sara Kate have good jobs, are politically active, and enjoy a good life. Nicole adopted Veronica and me while she was a volleyball player at UAB 15 years ago, and she’s been the daughter we never had. We celebrated Nicole’s and Sara Kate’s two-month wedding anniversary while I was on the “Left Coast.”

There is a lot about California that, of course, is appealing to me. My dajas live there, and Veronica and I don’t get to see them often enough. San Diego has awesome city services. And California is among the bluest states in the nation.

Readers who disagree with my politics shouldn’t get too excited. I’m not moving there. We need some blue right here in Alabama, as well, so I’m not leaving. I’m no Democrat – I’ve said this time and again – but, rather, a left-leaning independent. I do vote for both Republicans and Democrats when elections roll around; I’ll never vote straight-party ticket anything, though, and I don’t see any Republicans running statewide who’ll get my vote in 12 days.

I take solace that I live in the bluest city in Alabama. Birmingham has been described by some observers as the Southern Portland, Oregon. That’s a compliment, Birmingham. You know it if you’ve ever visited Portland.

One fact I noticed while in California is that California’s political leaders want their citizens to vote. All citizens – not just those of one particular party’s leanings. They don’t put up barriers to voting; indeed, they have few barriers, if any, to qualified voters. There is early voting, voting by mail and, of course, voting in person. Their polls are even open longer than ours in Alabama. They don’t put up impossible obstacles for third-party or independent candidates, either. Such are often found on California’s ballots, including this year.

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In Alabama, Republican Secretary of State John Merrill does most everything in his power to discourage voters, especially those who disagree with his party’s politics. But Merrill isn’t an anomaly; this is the Republicans’ strategy in most deep Red states.

Not in California, though, and California is the most populous state in the nation by far.

Every qualified voter in California receives a couple of booklets during voting season that helps educate them about the candidates and issues on the upcoming ballot.

Unlike Alabama, California leaders trust their citizens enough to allow them the right to propose laws themselves. Through citizen petitions, measures (propositions) are on the California ballot each election. These informational booklets explain those issues thoroughly, and they are entirely nonpartisan.

One of the booklets each of my dajas received through the mail is about 150 pages of voter information on statewide candidates and propositions, as well as local measures and candidates from their voting district in San Diego. These so-called “pamphlets” go out to each of the more than 20 million California voters, not just households.

The goal is to have voters as educated as they want to be before casting their ballots. In Alabama, we don’t even explain our many constitutional amendments on the ballot very well. We depend on advocates for or against a particular amendment to offer their skewed recommendations, or analysis from media organizations, though that’s becoming less frequent as newspapers and other news outlets downsize their staffs.

Yes, California television is full of advertisements from advocacy groups in favor or in opposition to particular candidates or propositions. But voters also have this neutral voter guide that provides the full text of the proposition or local measure, along with arguments for and arguments against, and an impartial analysis of the proposition or measure.

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It’s not particularly sexy reading, but it does offer voters much more information than we provide our 3 million-plus registered voters in Alabama.

The message in California: Vote, and vote smart. In Alabama, it’s more vote our way or take the highway (and election officials are glad to show voters the highway, by disfranchising qualified and registered voters left and right – especially if they are minorities).

We may have to work harder to vote smart in Alabama, but we can do it. In less than two weeks, we’ll be given that opportunity. That gives qualified voters plenty of time to do their homework instead of just voting for the candidate who incite the most fear with ridiculous, hot-button issues.

I tell my students at UAB all the time: Do your homework if you want a better grade. Voters need to do their homework, too, if they want Alabama to be a better state.
Maybe one day, we’ll welcome all qualified voters to the polls, but it’ll take voting smart on Nov. 6 to start making that happen.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].


Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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