No Vote
By Trudy Wischemann
8:05 am,
May 17, 2024

What if someone told you that you have no vote? Right here in America, you a citizen, being told you have no vote: what would you do? Or, a little slimier, you can have a vote, but it won’t count. What then?

Millions of us face this every time we go to the polls (or excuse ourselves from voting) because we’re convinced it doesn’t matter. If you’re a Democrat living in a fire-engine-red district, does that give you license to abstain? Your vote counts even if it doesn’t win, an expression of an alternate way of viewing the potential solutions to the world’s problems. Another alternative is to move to a district where your vote might just help tip the scales. Most of us don’t go to that extreme because we are not bothered enough by the results of losing to the candidate not of our choice.

But what if everything was at stake, everything we’d ever worked for and accomplished teetering on the decisions of people who are not even slightly influenced by our needs? What if you lived where people whose voting power gave them full license to serve their own interests at the expense of the neighbors, and actually benefited from your demise or emigration?

This is the situation that smaller-scale, resident farmers/growers have faced—or not faced—in the Tulare Lake Basin for 75 years or more. Unfortunately, this unbalanced power dynamic that we have not (yet) faced spreads far beyond those muddy shores.

The cause is property-weighted voting in water/water storage districts, which I’m bringing up again because I get to speak on that topic to the League of Women Voters of Tulare County next Tuesday, May 21. I’m calling it “Property-Weighted Voting and the Demise of Democracy: Tell ’Em We’re Taking It Back.” I will be describing what actions we could be taking, based on certain principles embedded in documents like our State Constitution and bodies of legal precedents. What I am advocating is that we the people begin the process of abolishing property-weighted voting in this state, effectively overturning the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Salyer et. al. v. Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District, which decided 6:3 that property-weighted voting in these kinds of districts is constitutional at the national level.

The need to do so is urgent. Property-weighted voting allows super-large landowners to control the water supplies of all landowners within their district’s boundaries, not just the water for their own properties. (As I have written in this column over the past year, we could see this dominance more easily during the 2023 flooding events than we can with groundwater overdraft and export outside the groundwater basins.) This power allows them to exert power over the regulatory agencies, as well as local public servants, who bow to their wishes at the public’s expense. It has allowed them to take control of the groundwater management process in invisible ways, which threatens to leave us—the communities and resident agricultural enterprises that make up our rural economy—high and dry. We will all be paying a price for it—for essentially having no vote over the management of our groundwater, our last source of defense against droughts.

At this moment, we have no vote over our socio-economic future as a rural economy. But we have voices, and it’s time to use them. Tell ‘em we’re taking it back—and they might as well get used to the idea.

Our LWV meets third Tuesdays in Visalia at Left of Center Bistro, 699 W. Center from 11:30 to 1 p.m. For buffet lunch reservations RSVP: before 5 p.m., May 17.

Trudy Wischemann is a rural advocate who writes wrongs. You can send her your thoughts on speaking up c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247. This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.

About the Author

Trudy Wischemann
Local writer of the column ‘Notes From Home’