By Gary Walker
What some have called an innovative and creative solution to stopping the deluge of campaign mail during local, state and federal elections is being questioned by election experts for its plausibility.
Members of the Green Committee of the Mar Vista Community Council introduced a motion at the council’s April 9 meeting asking their city officials to allow those who do not want to receive election-related mail at their homes to “opt out” of receiving the mailers.
The local council decided to postpone the matter until this month after it could not agree on whether the proposal could pass legal muster.
Mar Vista Community Council Chair Sharon Commins said the resolution will be on its May 14 agenda for an up or down vote.
“Our constituents appear to like the conception but the implementation has not been researched yet,” added Commins, who said she favors the idea after receiving over 100 pieces of campaign mail in recent months.
Loyola Marymount University professor Richard Fox questioned how such a system could be implemented. “It sounds difficult,” said Fox, who is an expert in elections and political campaigns. “It’s not clear how this would be administered.
“Also, I don’t know if this can be done within the (U.S.) Postal Service.”
Melissa Stoller, a co-chair of the community council’s Green Committee, sponsored the resolution with her committee co-chair Jeanne Kuntz.
Stoller said the most recent Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education election March 5 was the final straw for her and others, as mailboxes across the city were filled with candidate material as well as what many call negative advertisements against their opponents.
“This last campaign – like all the others before it – the mail went straight into my recycle bin,” she said. “For the next campaign, I think I’ll keep track of how much is sent on behalf of each candidate and ballot measure and this time the campaign mail might, for the first time, influence my vote.”
In recent years, Mar Vista has become a bastion of sustainability and for many, that means living with as few paper-generated products as possible, including what is used for campaign propaganda.
Due in part to that dedication to the environment, Dan Schnur feels the proposal might resonate with the council later this month.
“For Mar Vista residents, it could have significant environmental as well as psychological benefits,” said Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh School of Politics at the University of Southern California.
“These seem to be very civic-minded people who are not trying to avoid information from candidates but they don’t feel that an onslaught of direct mail is the best way to engage them in the conversation.”
The Green Committee was prompted into action after hearing from Alicia Arlow, who owns ArloCreative in Venice. Arlow looked into the possibility of how she could stop the flow of direct mail from political campaigns but did not like the answer that she received.
“I was told by the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office that if I didn’t want 40 flyers a day clogging my mailbox that I should remove myself from voter registration and stop voting, which is backwards logic,” she said.
“I’m happy to vote. I also like voting from home and receiving a mail-in ballot. I spend time online determining who I wish to vote for and don’t need a bunch of political flyers mailed to me just because the ballot is mailed,” Arlow continued. “I think that is part of the misdirected logic of the way it’s set up – that if you vote by mail you want more mail at home.”
The Argonaut was unable to contact the county registrar’s office by press time.
Arlow said another pet peeve is that she feels that some politicians “abuse” the mailers by constantly sending them to potential voters, especially in the last week of a campaign.
“Consider when getting six politicians times six flyers per day,” she said. “It’s awful… my mail was a mess, checks and bills were all crumbled.
“I don’t want to feel responsible for filling up the recycler simply because I am helpless in figuring out how to make it stop. I also cannot miss any checks if the mailman fills it with garbage then leaves important mail outside that I may not get (because) I work from home, as do many people,” Arlow added.
Fox said determining what is political mail and what isn’t could prove to be a difficult task. “What if there was an interest group that wanted to educate the public about global warming?” the professor asked. “To some, that could be construed as political mail but to others it may be educational material.”
Schnur was intrigued by the idea of “opting out of” receiving political advertising through the mail. “This has tremendous potential,” said Schnur, who was the national director of communications for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
If a significant number of potential voters are able to remove themselves from receiving the avalanche of election mail, it might force candidates on the local level to campaign differently, Schnur added.
“A candidate running for governor of California cannot shake the hand of every voter in the state,” he noted. “But a candidate for City Council can knock on a lot of doors.”
Arlow said there is a mechanism in place for citizens to avoid telemarketers so there should also be a solution for those who are weary of political campaigns and their cascade of direct mail.
“(If) we the people can opt out of email marketing and catalog mailers and distribution, we the people need to be able to opt out of political mailers too,” she asserted.
Schnur thinks opting out could resonate beyond Mar Vista if the council approves the resolution and then the Los Angeles City Council acts on it as well.
“If voters realize that they have some defense against (direct political mail), this could become very popular,” he said.