KPBS Midday Edition special: Democracy Day
S1: On this Democracy Day special , a look at the power of the vote and the institution.
S2: Really does matter. That is really important to the way this government works.
S1: I'm Jade Hindman with Maureen CAVANAUGH. This is KPBS Midday Edition.
S3: We need to really be doing more to inform folks all the election platform.
S1: And are there any roadblocks for those casting a ballot for the first time ? Plus , a look at what's threatening our democracy. That's ahead on Midday Edition.
S4: Today is International Democracy Day , as designated by the United Nations. And it comes at a time when organizations like Democracy Watch find that democratic institutions are under threat worldwide , including here in the U.S.. A recent poll finds that 67% of Americans are concerned that our democracy is in danger of collapse. President Biden recently addressed the nation about growing disrespect for our country's democratic institutions , including distrust of voting and election outcomes. On Midday Edition today , we'll hear from a range of democracy advocates , people who work year round to keep our democracy strong. One of those organizations is the nonpartisan League of Women Voters. They've been working to encourage voting and civic engagement for the past 100 years. In fact , the group's motto is Defending Democracy. Joining me is Laurie Theobald , the immediate past president and current vice president of the League of Women Voters of San Diego. And Laurie , welcome to the show.
S2: Thank you. It's so nice to be here.
S4: Democracy itself is being cast these days as a partisan issue. But why is that incorrect ? Right.
S2: Well , so democracy is just a system of government and it is a system that enables the entire population or eligible members of a state to participate in its own governance through its elected representatives. And so democracy is , by its very nature , a nonpartisan endeavor.
S4: American politics , though , is split so sharply down partisan lines right now.
S2: And we've managed to stay in this very important space because we do not support or oppose candidates or parties. We are a political organization that takes positions based on our principles and our values and not based on a political party or a candidate.
S4: The motto Defending Democracy. Sort of implies that democracy is fragile.
S2: It took 72 years for women in this country to earn the right to vote. That beginning an organization under those circumstances really embeds in our DNA the understanding that this is a fragile and important endeavor we're on , and that voting rights and equity and inclusion is something that must be tended. It has to be. In our case , it was definitely earned and it has to be tended to nurtured in order to be relevant and stay available to people who need it.
S2: So , for example , the National League has been involved in multiple lawsuits and legal opportunities to protect the freedom to vote. So , as you know , in 2021 , there probably were 41 states that tried in some way to restrict voting rights. So the League of Women Voters has been very active in the legal advocacy surrounding ensuring people have the opportunities to vote. But in addition to that , we also make sure that we have fair redistricting. Currently , about 33 states enable gerrymandering because their redistricting is performed by legislators who are necessarily partisan. And the league has been fighting back against this type of gerrymandering for years , and particularly through an initiative called People Powered Fair Maps that they launched in 2019 to help ensure that maps were drawn by nonpartisan groups.
S4: In recent years , political developments like the January six insurrection seem to have forced the league to speak out against what it sees as tyranny. But now the Republican Party says it views the League of Women Voters as a leftist organization.
S2: We define ourselves and we behave in accordance with non-partisan activities , and we can be perceived by others in any way that they desire. But the reality is we host candidate forums , we provide voting information , we enable voter rights. And all of these are nonpartisan activities. Voting is not a partisan activity. And regardless of how many times people want to cast it as a partisan issue , it is not allowing people to vote , giving people access to their polling place. Giving them opportunities to participate in their democracy is the foundation of this country. It is not a partisan act. It is a supportive act to encourage people to participate in their own government.
S2: Well , that's a neighborhood that's everybody on your street. And that's when it begins to hit home that your vote really does matter. Your willingness to learn about the issues on your ballot , your willingness to engage with your community and inform yourself about the candidates who are running for your district. And as an elected official , that is really important to the way this government works , to the way your city performs its duties , to the way the education your children get in school , whether or not your trash gets picked up and who pays for it. You know , everything is politics , really , if you think about it. And politics is not a dirty word. It's how we organize ourselves and ensure that people in our country and in our cities and states have equal access and equal rights to opportunities. So it's a real privilege to be able to vote. It's a really engaging situation to sit around with your fellow citizens and fellow voters and have conversations about how you're going to move forward within your democracy. It's just exhilarating , and I encourage everybody to feel like you matter because you do. Every vote does count.
S4: I just spoke about the recent poll numbers showing that many Americans believe our democracy is in danger of collapse.
S2: It's sad that people feel that way , but to me that's not an end point. It's a beginning. It's an opportunity to see where we are as a nation , what our attitudes are as a nation , and to address those those attitudes. If we are feeling like our democracy is in peril , this is just a wake up call. That's a good signal for us to recognize that we need to get more involved and become more engaged and participate more thoroughly in our democracy and bring it back to the level where we believe that it is in good standing and that it is not fragile anymore and that it is healthy. We all have that ability to participate and bring this democracy to the level of health that we want it to be at.
S4: I've been speaking with Laurie Thiele , the immediate past president and current vice president of the League of Women Voters of San Diego. Laurie , thanks so much for speaking with us.
S2: And thank you so much , Maureen.
S1: As Americans prepare to vote in November. One thing members of both the Republican and Democratic parties seem to agree on is that democracy in the US is in danger , but there's not an agreement on where that danger comes from. We asked our listeners what you believe are the greatest threats to American democracy and what you see as the power you have as a voter to uphold American democracy. Here's some of what we heard.
S3: My name is Armando the Second and I'm from District of San Diego. We have a lot of apathy in the system that we use to govern ourselves. And we have a lot of ignorance. And the candidates , especially some far more extreme candidates that seek to undermine the system that we are. I think those two , in combination with one another , can lead to a serious threat to our democracy. I am completely planning on voting. I'm very passionate about making sure people are informed about who they're voting for or more so what their vote can do. And just making sure that they understand what's on the ballot. I've never skipped out on an election. David Simmons I live in North Park , San Diego. You know , I do feel that it is in danger. And I think that the reason I feel that it's in danger is because the partisan politics seems to have overtaken our political process. And both when I watch the news and also when I talk to friends that I have , friends who are all over the spectrum , it seems that for somehow over the last few years , people have become more loyal to their political party , to their country. And I think that we're forgetting , you know , we never talk about what unites us , what we all have in common , what our common values are.
S2: Shelly Muller and I live in Rancho Bernardo. I think the greatest threat , given that a democracy depends on the people of the nation electing their representatives. The biggest threat is when people lose confidence in the integrity of the electoral process , and the elections might be perfectly sound. But if the people lose faith , then the damage is done.
S3: My name is Ed Hayden. The non proportional representation in the Senate that very much concerns me and we've had that problem , of course ever since the founding of our country. I looked up some statistics. San Diego County has a population of something over 3 million. There are. 20 states , 20 that have a smaller population in San Diego County. In those 20 states each have two senators. To me , there's something drastically wrong with that in the fair representation. You know , my vote , your vote , everybody's vote here in San Diego is greatly diluted by that fact. I missed it. Gerrymandering by both parties. It is all over the place. Strange shapes to make districts and representative districts and in states in every state. And that disturbs , again , a fair representation. If you're all Democrats in one district and you lose your right to have true representation in our American democracy.
S1: We also reached out to all five members of San Diego's congressional delegation with those same questions and heard back from two Democrats , Representative Scott Peters and Mike Levin. Here's what Congressman Scott Peters , who represents the 52nd Congressional District , had to say.
S3: There's no policy issue facing us that's more difficult to solve than the division in America between the left and the right. It was Abraham Lincoln who told us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. That's the that's the risk that we face. We're in a very difficult time in terms of information because a lot of us grew up when there were three TV stations. And that's the facts that we relied on were all generally agreed to. And while we may have disagreed , it seemed like we were all in the same field. Today you can go find your own truth with the Internet and with all sorts of misinformation that makes it difficult enough. But the risk is when elected officials openly and defiantly spread lies about our elections and the integrity of our democratic system. That leads to a sense of aggrievement that can lead to political violence , armed groups weaponizing lies and using violence to intimidate others like we saw in what was what happened on January 6th of 2021. So it's up to us as elected officials to tell the truth , and we certainly rely on the media to tell the facts as they are. Elections matter. People have fought for generations back to the 1700s for the right to decide who governs them. And we can't take that for granted. So what power to voters have to have the power to vote ? And if you don't think that that's important. Voting is the difference between the Supreme Court we have today and Khashoggi , Brown , Jackson. I mean , that's a big that's if you if you like one or the other , you have to participate. It's an apathy that will let other folks decide. And it's apathy will that will make us weaker as a republic.
S5: Hi , everyone. It's Mike Levin , representative for North County , San Diego and South Orange County. This Democracy Day , it's important to remember that we must never take our democracy for granted. It requires each and every one of us to work for it , to come together and protect it , regardless of our political differences. Unfortunately , our democracy is facing threats from those who wish to sow division or serve their own political interests at the expense of our shared values. Our democracy faced one of its biggest tests when the former president tried to ignore the will of the voters and overturn the 2020 election. When that failed , he incited a violent insurrection and sadly , he continues to spread disinformation that is undermining our democracy. We can have differences of opinion , but we must always respect the outcome of free and fair elections in our democracy. Ultimately , it's up to you , the voters , to protect our democracy. Our future will be decided by those who show up to vote this November. There's too much at stake to sit this election out.
S1: You're listening to a KPBS Midday Edition special on Democracy Day. I'm Jade Hindman with Maureen CAVANAUGH. Voting and the process of casting an actual ballot is one of the most fundamental ways that we can participate in democracy. Despite this , low voter turnout in non-presidential elections has long been a problem. The increasingly politicized issue of voter registration has also raised concerns about voter rights and how accessible our democracy is to the average voter or potential voters. To combat this , a number of organizations promote voter advocacy and outreach , educating members of the community about how their vote matters and how to make their voices heard. One such organization is Alliance San Diego , which spearheads efforts and programs to make democracy more inclusive locally. With more on these efforts and the challenges facing democracy at the local level , I'm joined by Chris Reiss Wilson , the associate director of Alliance San Diego. And Chris , welcome to Midday Edition.
S3: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
S3: Lots of folks don't know that in elections coming up , there aren't very many places where they would get that information other than candidates reaching out to them. And most of the people we contact , we call them low peninsula voters , people who vote less frequently than others. They don't get very many contacts from candidates. So they they tend to not have the information. Hmm.
S3: You know , in San Diego , especially , people might not know when an election is happening in the United States or in the state of California. But we always hear about the elections of the Mexican government because they do a great job of putting ads on radio , TV and the Internet to let people know that elections are coming up and they really have a duty to participate. We don't do anything of that kind here in San Diego. As a matter of fact , for a long time , the registrars had zero money to dedicate to public education. And , you know , in a in a time such as now , when we have a new voting system and voting is more important than ever and there are attacks on voting across the country. We need to really be doing more to inform folks. The the election platform. Right.
S1: Right. And outside of being informed , there are some people who are just a little reluctant to vote.
S3: I hear folks talk about their voice not being important. And I also hear folks talking about it doesn't matter doesn't matter how I vote. We have a two party system and neither party served me.
S1: And , you know , is there a particular message that you find resonates most with people who are in that position , who are reluctant to vote ? That really ends up changing their mind.
S3: Yeah , what we found that works is we start with giving people information about the upcoming election. Then we transition to talking about how when we vote together , unified collectively , and our voice is heard , or we make our voice heard in an election , that's not the end of our job. That's not the end of our work. Voting in and of itself is not the end. It is the tool. We still have to stay engaged with the government. We have to show up at meetings. We have to try to get appointed to commissions and and boards. That voting is the start of our engagement. And we take people who are , you know , less reluctant after we've talked to them and we make sure to keep them plugged in. And we promise to walk with people after the election. And when folks know they're not walking alone , they have accurate information and that they will be in unity with other committed community members from their neighborhood. They tend to resonate more with our message around voting is important.
S1: And , you know , voter participation seems high for those those big elections when we vote for president , for example. But that's not the case for most of the other elections.
S3: Folks didn't just make their way to running for president. At the top of the ticket. That rarely happens. A lot of the folks who get elected to federal office and statewide office started in the local government. And so we have an opportunity to that and to experience these folks before they become higher , before they get on to higher elected office. And we have a duty. If people are not good for our community , they're not good for our state. If they're not good for our state , they're not good for our country. And so when we get a chance to go to the ballot box and make these decisions about who will represent us , we have a duty to do that not just to ourselves and to our fellow neighbors who are our statewide community and to the country.
S3: When we started doing this work in 2009. 60% of the electorate did not participate in elections regular. That is to say 40% of the electorate was voting in every election. 60% were sitting out most elections. After having done this work for ten years , we did another evaluation and we now find that 60% of the electorate is engaged in every election and we have still have more work to do because we got to get that 40% turned around now.
S1: All right. I've been speaking with Chris Reiss Wilson , associate director of Alliance San Diego. Chris , thank you very much for talking with us today.
S3: Glad to be here. Everybody who can vote needs to get out there and vote.
S4: Casting your first ballot is something most people remember , especially if it took a while to make that decision. Some Americans are eager to step up and vote as soon as they are legally able to. Some are motivated by a single issue , and others need to be convinced about how important their one vote really is. For our Democracy Day special. I spoke with two people who will be voting for the first time this November. I'd like to welcome Vanessa Lopez. She's 17 years old , a student at San Diego City College , and she is from City Heights. Vanessa , hello. Hi.
S2: Hi. Good afternoon.
S4: And Matthew Slaoui is here. He's 26. He works at Alliance San Diego. He's from L.A. and he's engaged to be married. Matthew , welcome.
S3: Thank you. I don't.
S4: Matthew , what's your personal history on voting ? Have you thought about it ? And I know this is your first time going to go do it. So tell me what your history is on that.
S3: I never have voted previously because I didn't really had the education and I didn't really know what was going to be good , what was going to be bad. I just knew what I knew at the time. And my friends and the people that I was around never voted. I wasn't big into politics because I had a lot going on where I was at , so I just stuck with what I knew and I never really got into it until I moved out to L.A. and got to meet people and get to know politics.
S4: So , Matthew , lots of people say they don't think their vote really counts.
S3: Initially , I always thought to it takes one just went to one person to make a difference , you know. So I think everyone's vote is very important.
S4: Now , Vanessa , it sounds like you are signing up to vote as soon as you possibly can.
S3: I know they talked about voting at my school briefly , but they weren't really that big into it. And there's a lot of things going on in the neighborhood I grew up , so I think voting was the last thing on my mind until I got a little older and I realized that it really does make a difference.
S4: I want to ask you both this question. Let me start with Vanessa.
S2: So I've learned a lot through working here at Alliance , but also just reading and looking for information. Like the other day I went on Google and first up , the candidate. So it's just more like personal interest and wanting to know. And that's how I've prepared myself to vote.
S3: Now I want to get out and let my voice be heard.
S3: However , I think I could talk to them at least , you know , get it understood , you know , change the energy up a little bit. However , you know , sometimes you just got to get away from people that want to stay in the places that they're at. So it's no love lost and no hatred. But , you know , I think it's important for everyone to educate themselves because , you know , we perish for lack of education. So best thing I could do is just talk to them , let them know that there's other things they can do and other ways they can impact their lives that they have the power to and they have to go from there.
S2: So I think I just trust my intuition and feel that I could elect the right person and see change in my community.
S4: You know , Matthew , we have seen in recent elections the power of one vote , because so many elections have been decided lately by very few overall votes.
S3: I currently live in Chula Vista. It might not be a driving force , you know , like , you know , if you want to look at it from the outside. But the way I look at it is I'm coming.
S2: To a new community where.
S3: I want to make a difference , where I want to have my voice heard.
S2: But I am excited to finally have my opinion heard and hopefully be able to change our community for the better.
S3: And I realized what voting is all about. Staying up to date and being involved in my community. So like is going to be real impactful for everybody. Obviously , I'm just one vote. However , that one vote , everyone takes a vote that is very , very powerful. So , yeah , I'm excited. Great.
S4: Great. Well , it was so much fun talking to you both. Vanessa Lopez and Matthew Slaoui , thank you both so much for speaking with us.
S2: Thank you for having us.
S3: Thank you.
S4: As first time and long time voters both get informed about the politicians and the issues on the November ballot. The San Diego County Registrar of Voters is also gearing up. And since the integrity of elections and vote counting have come under increased scrutiny , the pressure is on for the registrar's office to be 100% transparent and 100% accurate. Joining me is San Diego County registrar of voters Cynthia Paz. And , Cynthia , welcome.
S2: Thank you. Happy to be here.
S4: Last time you spoke to midday , you were surprised by the low voter turnout for the June primary election.
S2: It's not too unusual , but with all the interest during the recall election , I was expecting a little bit more interest.
S2: In 2021 , we saw nearly a 60% turnout. So I would anticipate seeing somewhere around those numbers.
S2: But we just did a mailer in early August , which helps us update our voter registration rolls. And people are probably getting a little bit more interested now in registering to vote. We also have our outreach team out in the community doing voter registration drives at events all across the county. So we're hoping interest will grow. And now that we have same day registration , folks can show up at any vote center up until Election Day to register and vote on the same day.
S2: So the Voters Choice Act with with the vote center model. However , during the 2020 presidential general , we did conduct a very similar election under a very similar model with with 200 plus vote centers open for four days.
S2: Also , just mailing everyone a ballot. We've seen that when folks receive a ballot in the mail , they're more likely to cast that ballot. And we're encouraging folks to vote early. With this election , we will have 11 consecutive days of early voting. We will have 39 locations opening across the county starting Saturday , October 29th. They will be open for 11 days from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Then again on Saturday , November 5th , we will have 200 plus vote centers open across the county. These vote centers will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Election Day , Tuesday , November 8th , when the voting hours change to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.. So we're encouraging folks avoid any potential of long lines. Don't wait until Election Day. You're getting your mail ballots nearly a month in advance. Act on that mail ballot or vote early at any of our vote centers.
S2: We will start mailing those out September 29th. We will start with the larger quantities of pamphlets , meaning that those pamphlets that cover larger portions of the county will be mailed first. Each day , more pamphlets will enter the mail stream until all have been mailed , and we anticipate having them all mailed out to voters by October seven.
S2: It'll be 118 inch card with contests on the front and back , depending on where you live in the county.
S4: And just to be. Clear. Can any voter , any registered voter in San Diego County go to any voting center or are you assigned one ? Absolutely.
S2: You're no longer assigned to one individual vote center. You can visit any vote center in the county.
S4: And our poll worker is still needed. Yes.
S2: Yes. So we are in the process of recruiting and hiring poll workers right now. We'll need about 2600 folks to help us out at the polls. So poll workers play an essential role in our elections and can serve their community and earn $16 an hour. These are now temporary county employees since vote centers are open for multiple days under the Voter's Choice Act. We have vote centers that have replaced the traditional polling places. Which voters are becoming a bit more used to. But that means we need poll workers that are able to work nearly two weeks.
S4: I remember back in the 2020 presidential election , there was some concern about partisan observers being encouraged to monitor operations at polling places.
S2: So that's not new and it's expected and encouraged. We welcome any of our voters. Any individual in the public is welcome to come in and observe the election process.
S4: Now , our focus on today's show is to mark International Democracy Day.
S2: When you speak about the integrity of elections , that that begins with file maintenance , making sure that we have voters information correct in our files so we can mail materials out correctly. So voters should take that opportunity to visit , see vogue.com and check their registration if anything on their registration is not up to date. They should immediately fill out a new registration form. It only takes 2 minutes to fill that out online. So a complete list of ballot drop box locations as well as vote centers will be included in the voter information pamphlet. We will also have this available at Steamboat Dot dot com along with a mapping tool so any voter can find a location near them.
S4: I've been speaking with San Diego County Registrar of Voters , Cynthia Pass , and thank you so much.
S2: Thank you.
S1: You're listening to a KPBS Midday Edition special on Democracy Day. I'm Jade Hindman with Maureen CAVANAUGH. We've been hearing about the fragility of American democracy and how it's being threatened. Also , the importance of voting to uphold democracy. Now we're going to expand the conversation to talk about how the state of American democracy compares to the rest of the world. I'm joined now by Emily Hafner Burton , professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California , San Diego. Emily , welcome.
S2: Thank you. Happy to be here.
S1: You are co-director of a new program launched last year called The Future of Democracy Initiative at the International Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation.
S2: I would say at the start of the 21st century , I was much more optimistic. And I think the world was the future of democracy at that point in time looked more hopeful. And we saw more and more countries that really seemed to embrace some form of integration.
S3: Into the liberal.
S2: International order. And the hope was that that integration was going to incentivize governments , governments , even in non-democratic regimes , to implement meaningful. Political.
S2: Reforms that would lead them onto the path of democratization. But today , I think there's a big shadow on that hope as we are witnessing attacks on democracy as a concept and as a set of institutions both from within and without. And that's why we started this initiative , was to. Put.
S2: Our heads together as scholars.
S3: To see if we could shed.
S2: Some light on what's happening and what we can do about it.
S2: So there are a couple of sobering facts that I think are very important , and let's put the U.S. in that context. The first is that the number of democracies in the world today is in decline , and it's been in decline for roughly a decade. And some of those worst reversals have happened precisely in places that not that long ago had seemed to be beacons of hope and certainly as parts of U.S. foreign policy beacons of hope. This is countries like Myanmar. This is countries like Venezuela. So that's that's the first thing. But the second is that many established democracies , and this includes the United States , are really experiencing significant what we call democratic erosion or backsliding at home. And that means increasingly adopting sometimes authoritarian tactics and watering down checks and balances. And.
S2: Oftentimes doing it with significant popular support. So you see this happening in the world's largest democracies , like Brazil , like India. But this is also the United States , which has now been. Widely.
S2: Labeled by the international community as a backsliding democracy. And that was even before the Capitol insurrection.
S2: So the one comes internally. There is this recent poll that says something like two out of three Americans believes that democracy inside the United States is in is in crisis. And that poll is very informative because it's very partisan based , which is to suggest that people in this country who believe democracy is under threat generally tend to be thinking about the election and the belief that the election was stolen from President Donald Trump and that that is a threat to the American democracy. The viewpoint from externally , from the international community about the threat to democracy inside the United States has very much to do with the way the United States government , and particularly state legislatures supported by courts , are baking in rules that address voter registration and voting laws. That.
S2: Disproportionately suppress minorities and affect the poor in a negative way. And that's something that our Congress has the power to do something about , but which it's done very little. So there are these two very different visions of why democracy is under threat in the United States. And they're very polar opposite , depending upon where you sit.
S2: I think that's one of the very interesting parts of what is so complicated about democracy in the world today , and that's inside the United States. But it's also in the global context , which is that threats to democracy at one point in time historically were very much seen in the rise of sort of strong strongmen or autocrats , as it were , who were using violence.
S3: And using tools of repression and using tools of censorship in order to.
S2: Manipulate their populations. And one of the interesting changes in history of where you see today , you see so many autocrats on the rise , but you see a shifting in the tactics that so many of these governments utilize , oftentimes away.
S3: From just overt.
S2: Tactics of suppression and violence , too much more carefully manipulated tactics of using tools.
S3: Of democracy to.
S2: Effectively try and undermining democracy. So taking off the military fatigues , putting on the Armani suit and and ruling through populism , ruling through the manipulation of the media , which you certainly see happening in United States today , ruling through information , disinformation and misinformation which happens around the world and using the electoral system. Right. And in addition to the media to undermine genuine representation. And I think the January six , 2020.
S3: Insurrection in which this armed mob stormed the US Capitol to overturn.
S2: The presidential election with support from the President himself.
S3: Was a.
S2: Hallmark moment for not just the United States but for democracy and showing how democratic systems can actually be used to weaken democracy.
S2: And the increasing degree of political polarization in this country really.
S3: Has disrupted.
S2: Social cohesion. And I think it has fundamentally undermined trust in and support for democracy internally and externally. So I think some beacons of hope in some sense are the ability to address issues of inequality in this country. And I think it's very heartening that we've seen , for example , recently the the fall in poverty in this country. Those types of policies are going to be extremely important. But fundamentally , the political polarization in this country is going.
S3: To harm.
S2: Democratic resilience of this country.
S3: And until.
S2: The political parties can address.
S3: The issue of.
S2: Polarization and the role of the media in that process , I think it's going to be a difficult.
S3: And difficult problem.
S1: I've been speaking with Emily Hafner , Burton , professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California , San Diego. Emily , thanks for joining us.
S2: It's been my great pleasure. Thank you.