Propositions key to deciding who can vote, when

San Francisco residents will have several chances on this year’s ballot to make it easier for just about everyone to vote.

Which raises some questions: Have you seen some of the people walking around the city streets these days? Do you really want them having a say in our civic affairs?

Be that as it may, there is a move afoot to make voting about as easy as sitting up to take nourishment, though there is some question about how healthy that might be because grand social experiments here have been known to go awry.

And it does raise a point that at a time when so many people file absentee ballots, just how easy it is to vote these days. People managed to vote for Ed Jew a few years back — it just can’t be that difficult.

But officials in The City are fond of throwing ideas at the wall to see which ones stick, and this year’s ballot has the election cleanup crews in overdrive. One measure, Proposition E, would allow citizens to register to vote in municipal elections right up to Election Day. Proposition D would let noncitizens vote in school board elections and Proposition I would open polling places on Saturdays starting with next year’s election.

Readers of this column know that I believe Saturday voting is a great idea, because voter turnout in the U.S. is among the lowest in the civilized world. There’s that whole work day/school kid/parent thing that we have to deal with on Tuesdays now, and that concept dates back 165 years when America was an agrarian nation and farmers needed time to get to a polling place that would not interfere with days of religious service.

So Tuesdays were picked, probably by some of the same folks who came up with the Electoral College.

Besides, the backers of Saturday voting have agreed to foot the bill, and I’m for anything that provides taxpayers a service that doesn’t actually tax them.

The other two measures are a little trickier. Voter rights advocates have always been a little leery of same-day voting registration because they fear the potential for fraud is too great. Critics also point out that the cost to put it into effect is about $425,000, no small chunk of change for a city that is flowing with red ink.

Still, it’s the noncitizen voting initiative that has generated the most controversy because it’s probably illegal, not that our supervisors pay attention to little things like that.

Supervisor David Chiu is leading the charge for noncitizen voting, saying that immigrants with children in San Francisco’s public school should be allowed to cast ballots. He said one out of three children in the school system have an immigrant parent.

“Engaging parents really helps with the quality of education,” Chiu told me.

Yet there are ways to encourage more parent involvement without climbing up a slippery slope of when and how to let noncitizens vote. For if immigrants really want to be involved, there’s nothing to stop them from joining the PTA, volunteering at schools or testifying as school board hearings, which I can assure you, they already do.

They could also set up programs in the schools to educate immigrant parents about becoming citizens, but why take baby steps when you can go for the gusto?

Still, there’s a reason that San Francisco would be the first city in California to allow noncitizens to cast ballots in a local election — the courts have ruled the idea to be unconstitutional. Of course, that hasn’t stopped a lot of our elected officials from trying to see if the legal authorities are watching (gay marriage, sanctuary for alleged juvenile criminals) but wishing the law was different doesn’t make it so.

When a nearly identical measure was on the ballot in 2004, the City Attorney concluded that it would be invalid.

Chiu and most of his colleagues on the board don’t agree, so chances are that if the measure passes, San Francisco will be defending its latest experiment in court.

But some people will feel better about themselves, and maybe that’s the real goal of all this large-scale laboratory testing.
It’s almost as easy as voting.

Ken Garcia appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@sfexaminer.com.

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