In a largely sleepy California election, there was one startling result: nearly 300,000 ballots cast for Leland Yee for secretary of state, good enough for third place even though he dropped out after being accused of gun running and political corruption. Yee’s tally, which is likely to grow as more than 750,000 uncounted ballots are processed, pushed him past a pair of good-government candidates also vying to be the state’s chief election officer–a bit of irony adding to a widely held notion, especially outside the state, that Californians are a bit nuts. Yet while vexing and a cause of no small amount of ridicule, state Sen. Yee’s surprising vote total can be explained by several factors beyond the supposed shallowness and stupidity of the California electorate.
Most have to do with the size and sprawl of the state and the lack of attention, by voters and the media alike, paid to so-called down-ballot offices like secretary of state.
Coincidence may have also contributed: another candidate named Yee, Betty, was on the same ballot running for state controller, also a relatively obscure office. She received a number of endorsements, including the support of several newspapers and labor unions, and some voters may have simply confused the two.
Above all, the results speak to the ephemeral nature of news — even events that are widely covered or hugely hyped — in this age of perpetual information.