One in 11 Voters Wanted Indicted Senator Leland Yee to Be Secretary of State

Thursday, June 05, 2014
State Senate Leland Yee (photo: Reuters)

Although state Senator Leland Yee received 289,134 votes at last count and finished third in the race for California Secretary of State, the Bay Area Democrat did not issue a statement after Tuesday’s election thanking his supporters.

That’s because the one-time frontrunner dropped out of the race after being arrested in March and indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly trading official acts of office for money and campaign donations. The FBI sting was part of a larger organized-crime investigation that swept up Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a Chinese citizen and current leader of the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong (CKT) organization.

Not many Californians came out to vote on Tuesday, but many of those who did made some curious choices. Selecting someone under indictment to run an office that supervises elections in the state and is responsible for political transparency shows either loyal support, a certain lack of discretion, a mischevious temperament or gross ignorance.

Or, all of the above.

It is difficult to second-guess the intention of a voter who has had more than two months of wall-to-wall news coverage to digest the situation. Josh Richman at the San Jose Mercury News suggested it bodes well for Yee’s attorney when it comes time to pick a jury of Yee’s peers.

Yee is out on bail but currently not participating in Senate activities. His fellow senators suspended him and two of his Democratic colleagues days after his arrest. Senator Ron Calderon from Montebello is facing federal bribery and corruption charges and Senator Roderick Wright of Inglewood is appealing his conviction for perjury and voter fraud.

Support for Yee was rather consistent across the state with Bay Area voters showing more enthusiasm for his candidacy, as many hometown partisans do in statewide races. He drew 12.4% of the vote in San Francisco County, compared to 9.8% statewide. It was Yee’s best showing although, presumably, those voters were better informed about his arrest.

But Yee also picked up 9.5% of the vote in San Diego County, where Republican Pete Peterson dominated with 33.7%. He also netted 11.2% of the vote in Mono County where Peterson did even better, with 36.4%.

So ignorance cannot be ruled out. But that might not be a bad thing, according to researchers led by Princeton University biologist Iain D. Couzin. Their 2011 study published in the journal Science found that a small group of fish called golden shiners― encouraged to follow their natural inclination to consume food when exposed to the color yellow―was much stronger than a larger group of fish who were trained to respond to the color blue.

The smaller, more intense yellow responders dominated the larger group until a bunch of untrained fish were introduced to the group. The focus of the entire group then shifted to following the blue cues.

Researchers concluded that the experiment validated “the role of uninformed individuals in achieving democratic consensus amid internal group conflict and informational constraints.”   

That would be yet another argument for encouraging eligible California voters to cast a ballot. As it stands, only 18.3% of the state’s 17.7 million registered voters participated in Tuesday’s election. That’s 3.2 million. Seventy-five percent of the state’s 38 million-plus residents are old enough to vote, which means theoretically around 28.5 million people could have registered.

That’s 25.3 million residents who could have voted, but may have been too uninformed to recognize how their uninformed presence might have contributed to the electoral process.

We may be too stupid to value stupid.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Indicted Senator Leland Yee in Third Place for Secretary of State (by Jim Miller, Sacramento Bee)

Leland Yee Placed 3rd for Sec’y of State. Really. (by Josh Richman, San Jose Mercury News)

Indicted Yee Gets a Quarter-Million Votes for Secretary of State (by Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times)

An Absurd Number of People Voted for State Senator Under Federal Investigation (by Lydia O'Connor, Huffington Post)

State Senator Yee Arrested in FBI Corruption Sweep of S.F. Chinatown (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Study of Fish Suggests the Value of Uninformed Voters (by Paul Basken, The Chronicle of Higher Education)

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