Now that we’ve gone back to closed primaries in this state, I was under the impression that there would be nothing on the ballot for me tomorrow. I’m pretty sure that I cannot participate in the high-profile Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District. I believe the Democrats let independents vote in their primaries, but I’m not independent; I’m registered Green. I just assumed everything on the ballot was primary stuff, so I haven’t been paying much attention.
Frankly I was happy with that situation. Voting is the least effective means of civic participation. It’s a duty, and kind of a pain, so I was glad to be sitting on the sidelines for this one.
But it turns out there’s a bunch of stuff on the ballot that I can vote for. Or at least I think I can. The Secretary of State’s sample ballots unfortunately don’t account for party affiliation. I guess I won’t really know what I can vote for until I get in the booth.
There’s six judges and a magistrate on the ballot. There’s also the District Attorney and our district seat on the school board. I don’t understand why there is no primary for these races, but it looks like there isn’t. I am open to any and all voting advice.
There are also two propositions, a bond issue and a charter amendment. The amendment would fund the office of the Inspector General. I’m definitely voting for that.
The bond issue I’m more conflicted about. It’s $63 million for criminal justice stuff, mainly through the agency of the Criminal Sheriff. That’s the guy who runs the prison among other things. Our city has the highest incarceration rate in the state. Or state has the highest incarceration rate in the nation. Our nation has the highest incarceration rate in the “developed” world. There’s entirely too much incarceration going on. I’m hesitant to support anything that seems to expand that capacity. And yet some of these funds would be dedicated to facilities for educational and vocational programs in the prison. As long as we’re locking people up with such reckless abandon, it would seem like a good idea to provide literacy classes and the like. Those programs are important, and they are currently running them in old broom closets. So I may end up voting for this one too.
Update: Oyster has some endorsements.
Then again, Ed McGinnis just forwarded an e-mail from Michael Cowan which makes a pretty convincing argument against the bond issue.
From: Michael Cowan
Sent: Friday, October 03, 2008 7:37 AM
Subject: Big obligation, no citizen input
Dear Common Good leaders,
When New Orleanians go to bed on Friday night, we will already owe $12,000,000 over the next 8 years to support the Law Enforcement District run by the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff. If the bond issue passes on Saturday, we will wake up on Sunday morning obligated to pay $112,000,000 to the district over the next 20 years. That amounts to $100,000,000 million dollars in new taxes. The criminal sheriff is selling this proposal with the mantra “No new taxes.”
National criminal justice experts who have studied our local justice system in detail over the past year have concluded that New Orleans has a major “front-end” problem: We arrest, charge and incarcerate thousands of people annually who pose no threat to public safety. Their cases can and should be handled by fines, alternative sentences, and referral to psychological and chemical dependency treatment. These failed arrest and charging policies, which have been in place for more than 15 years, are a major reason why our police, DA, public defender, courts and jail are overloaded. While we continue to waste precious and limited resources in this way, our per capita murder rate repeatedly tops the nation. We are spending taxpayers’ money in ways that are not giving us justice or safety.
The criminal sheriff proposes to use almost $65,000,000 to build a 4,000 bed prison. That facility would hold 5 times the national average of local prison beds given our current population, and more than 3 times the national average if our population goes back to its pre-Katrina level. A big local prison is only necessary if we continue to flood our system with people who do not need to be in it. In other municipalities, including Jefferson Parish, they are not. Handling these cases in other proven ways will free up the resources of all elements of our system to deal swiftly and fairly with those whose criminal behavior does threaten public safety.
Most New Orleanians do not even know that this measure will be on the ballot when they enter the voting booth on Saturday. The sheriff chose to ask voters to take on over $100,000,000 in new taxes without holding a single public hearing. He did not give organizations working hard at local criminal justice reform like Safe Streets, Strong Communities and the New Orleans Crime Coalition the opportunity to work with him to create a plan that we could have supported wholeheartedly. It is his legal right to do this, but it leaves those who question the wisdom of a 4,000 bed prison no choice but to go along or oppose the measure. Opposition is warranted for all three of the reasons above.
A “no” vote on the bond proposal and a “yes” vote on the charter amendment to protect the inspector general’s office from political manipulation will make our streets safer and our government more honest and efficient.
With best wishes,