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They're ballots, not campaign ads

Candidates' vocational designations are little more than lawn signs, printed on the ballot, that voters are forced to read when they vote.

June 04, 2012
(Los Angeles Times )

So there you are, in the Assembly, running for reelection, and you have to describe your "principal professions, vocations or occupations." You're limited to three words. This is going to be your ballot designation, and even voters who don't read your campaign literature, see your lawn signs or know where the Capitol is are going to see these words, right on their ballot, when they go to vote. Your political consultant tells you your choice will have a huge impact on your chances. What should you say?

"Incumbent." No, forget it. Voters are pretty unhappy with incumbents right now, and besides, many aren't exactly sure what the word means. It sounds like it might be a difficult position in gymnastics. Or maybe yoga.

"Assembly member." No way. You want to hide that.

"Attorney." After all, you're a licensed lawyer. But wait: Voters don't like them much either. Unless they're criminal prosecutors. Didn't you used to be one? "Criminal prosecutor." Or better yet, "Gang prosecutor." You've got that long coat and you often drape it over your shoulders, so maybe you can say, "Caped crusader." But no, your opponent is going to call you out on that, and a court may say that's not a profession, vocation or occupation. Let's see. "Space cowboy"? "Gangster of love"? Come on now, be serious. Hey, you could get a gig teaching one class a week at the night law school downtown, and then call yourself "Law professor"! Lots of judicial candidates do that, and the courts usually let it slide because many of the judges making the rulings did the same thing when they were running.

Every summer you grow tomatoes in the backyard, and all your neighbors say they're the best on the block. So how about "Farmer"? Bill Berryhill from Ceres calls himself that on the ballot, and it's true, but he's also an incumbent assemblyman. And sometimes you sell your extra tomatoes, so maybe "Small business owner"? Beth Gaines of Roseville calls herself that on the ballot instead of labeling herself an incumbent assemblywoman. If only you had gone to med school. Then you could be "Pediatrician/physician," like incumbent Assemblyman Richard Pan of Sacramento.

Or maybe, just maybe, you could call foul on the whole process and introduce a bill that finally puts an end to this charade of using the people's ballot for campaign statements. Eliminate ballot designations. After all, they're little more than lawn signs, printed on the ballot, that voters are forced to read when they vote. Designations no longer impart any real information when candidates use them as campaign materials. Put the too-clever designations on political mailers, not on the ballot.

Then they'd call you a reformer! Hey, that would make a great ballot designation.

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