In summary

CalMatters talked to a handful of the 4.3 million Californians who chose to sit out this year’s election to find out why, given 17.8 million set a record by voting in November. Joseph Jewett wanted a home and time to study the propositions.

Joseph Jewett, 29, is a homeless student in Torrance. Here’s why he didn’t vote.

Before, I would have gone out of my way to vote. Not so much anymore.

So, I have been living out of my car for about three years now. And my voter ballot was at my parents’ house, and I never went and got ahold of it. Actually, my ballot was sent there much later than theirs were, so I had a couple days to vote. I was busy.

As far as the presidential election goes, I really don’t care. We’re in California, my vote is gonna mean nothing no matter what I do. The propositions I do find to be important, somewhat.

But there was Proposition 6 (in 2018) that was trying to remove a gas tax. There was so much funding that went towards all these ads about how people who supposedly vote for this proposition hate schools. I thought people were gonna see through these ads. And of course, the gas tax stayed, I was pretty blown away. So voting matters, I guess, if everyone were to read up on the propositions, because those little official voter guides basically said the same thing that the ads were saying, which I was kind of surprised by. I thought they would be a little bit more objective and lay out a little bit more of the facts, but they didn’t.

I actually didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election but that one was completely because I didn’t have a car at the time. And the bus showed up late so I wasn’t able to get to the voter place on time, unfortunately. But I spent hours reading the damn propositions before that and making sure that I knew what they actually meant. I felt that every time there was an election there were propositions that passed that I was like, the only way that they passed was if people didn’t read very thoroughly what was in the actual proposition itself.

Joseph Jewett has been a dedicated voter in the past but chose not to vote this year. Photo courtesy of Joseph Jewett
Joseph Jewett has voted in the past but chose not to vote this year. Photo courtesy of Joseph Jewett

That is really what contributed to me not caring enough to spend the 15 minutes to drive over to my parents to pick up the mail-in ballot. I think that there’s so much corruption to the point that it doesn’t matter that much unless we’re voting on something like eliminating gerrymandering, which we did in 2008 in California. That kind of stuff matters because it affects how the politicians act.

If I had an apartment, I 50-50 might have voted. I’m not gonna vote if I can’t read through the propositions, all of them. My parents taught me to always read through. They had me reading through the voter guide. When I started taking classes for my paralegal certificate, I started seeing how different something was from its summary. I started to read through the whole propositions’ texts and was pretty blown away.

You know how at Long Beach City College there will be a bunch of people trying to get you to sign petitions or whatever to get a proposition made or whatnot? Yeah, I read through those before signing them, a lot of them. They were very contrary to what it actually said. And so after that, I just started reading through the entire propositions if I’m going to vote.

In 2016, I was saying I was gonna vote for Stein (Green Party) just because I didn’t want to vote for Hillary. And my coworker got infuriated, and she was like, “You’re part of the problem, blah, blah, blah. You’re why Trump could win.” I was like, “dude, no. First of all, do you know how the electoral college works?” And she had no idea what I was talking about. And I explained to her how it works.

And the first time Trump ran, I cared quite a bit about it. But after seeing how everything was handled, Bernie getting screwed over and Hillary not getting in trouble for any of that, I just didn’t care. I feel like we should have had Bernie four years ago. I have a feeling that he probably would have won against Trump.

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.  

This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. In California, CalMatters is hosting the collaboration with the Fresno Bee, the Long Beach Post, and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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Michael Lozano leads CalMatters’ Youth Journalism Initiative assessing the state of California’s journalism education and industry pipeline. He previously covered election administration for CalMatters...