Imagine a country where everyone voted

Plastic bag flying in the breeze

Hopefully this will no longer be a common sight in California

Election Day on Nov. 4 reminded me of my last interaction with an elected official’s office.

It was the middle of August and SB 270, the statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, was working its way through the California State Assembly. At that point, the bill had made it out of committee and was headed to the Assembly floor for the final vote. I was being bombarded with emails asking me to contact my Assemblymember and express support for the bill. Since the timing was getting down to the wire, I picked up the phone and called my Assemblymember’s district office. Here’s what happened:

Receptionist: Hello this is the Assemblymember’s office.
Me: Hi! I’m calling to express my support for SB 270, the statewide ban on plastic bags, and I’m asking the Assemblymember to vote yes!
Receptionist: Okay. (proceeds to hang up)
Me: But don’t you want to take down my name and address to verify that I’m a constituent?
Receptionist: No ma’am. (hangs up before I can get another word in)

I couldn’t believe it! I actually used to work as a field representative for a California State Assemblymember and we had a process for handling all phone calls, emails and mail. The first thing we always did was verify where the person lived, this was usually the receptionist’s job, but the rest of us chipped in if she was on break or on another call. If the person lived outside the district, then we referred them to the proper office, either by giving them the correct phone number or by forwarding their email or mail. If the person did live in the district, we asked what they were calling about. Depending on the issue, the person was assigned to me or the other field representative in the office.

Every call, email and letter was logged in a database specifically designed to track constituent correspondence. About once a week we reported to the Assemblymember on constituent activity so he knew what was most important to his voters. So needless to say, when the receptionist completely blew off my call, I was stunned.

But I refused to give up, even though most calls are handled in the district office, I decided to call the Capitol office. Here’s what happened:

Receptionist: Hello this is the Assemblymember’s office.
Me: Hi! I’m calling to express my support for SB 270, the statewide ban on plastic bags, and I’m asking the Assemblymember to vote yes!
Receptionist: Oh, that bill is actually in the State Senate right now.
Me: It is?
Receptionist: Yes.
Me: Oh, so sorry, I guess I received bad information.
Receptionist: No problem.

After this conversation, I started to wonder if I was crazy…had I misread the email? Was the bill actually in the State Senate? Later I checked the California Legislative Information website and discovered that SB 270 was in the Assembly until the floor vote on August 28, 2014. I called on August 15, 2014. At this point I was so annoyed. While my sanity was intact, my attempt to voice support for the plastic bag ban, something I really care about, was an epic fail. Thankfully, SB 270 passed and was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 30, 2014.

On Election Day as I cast my vote in a mostly empty polling place in a heavily populated Los Angeles neighborhood, I thought, No wonder the Assemblymember’s office couldn’t even be bothered to do their job and take my call, nobody can even be bothered to vote so there’s really no incentive to do anything. In the end, less than 37% of Americans voted on November 4, 2014. I guess we all get what we don’t vote for because in a country where everyone voted, I know they would have taken my call.

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