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California Voters Will Confront Crowded November Ballot

A voter leaves a polling station after casting his ballot in San Diego, Nov. 4, 2014.
Associated Press
A voter leaves a polling station after casting his ballot in San Diego, Nov. 4, 2014.

California Voters Will Confront Crowded November Ballot
California Voters Will Confront Crowded November Ballot GUEST:Katie Orr, politics and government reporter, KQED

Happy Independence Day. It is Monday, July 4. Our top story on Midday Edition from guns to pot. California voters are poised to weigh in on at least 17 statewide ballot measures this fall. Thursday was a qualification deadline. That was the final day for the Secretary of State's office to determine which measures qualify for the November ballot. Katie Orr joins me now to talk about some of the measures and some of the reasons why we have such a crowded ballot. Katie, thank you very much for joining us. Thank you for having me. What are the big ones? What are the initiatives you think will get the most attention and stir up the biggest fights? One of the initiatives that is bound to get a lot of it -- attention is the legalization of marijuana. This is something that they had been anticipating. It is something that we have seen in other states already. I think that will certainly draw a lot of interest. There are also two measures on the ballot having to do with plastic bags. One is a referendum that would overturn the state plastic bag ban that the governor had signed. The other is a measure that is also backed by plastic bag manufacturers that would take the money from the bag ban should it be upheld and instead of the money going to stores -- Brexit when you get a paper bag and they charge you $.10, that money would go back to the state. The plastic bag industry is counting on grocers having to campaign against that bill because they do not want to lose that money. It has been called something of a poison pill in case the referendum does not go through. Those are two measures. We have two measures on the ballot having to do with the death penalty. It is interesting because it would eliminate the death penalty in California. The other would speed it up. Those are on two completely different ends of the spectrum. In that case, you could call those dueling initiatives. Absolutely. Are there any high-profile initiative campaigns that failed to get there and issues -- to get their issues on the state ballot? I think one of the most interesting thing that we saw this he was the minimum wage. We were going to potentially have two different issues on the November ballot raising the state's minimum wage. The governor came to an agreement with the union earlier this year that basically negated the need for those ballot measures. We will not be weighing in on them in November. This is considered the longest list of state propositions on eighth -- a single ballot since March 2000. Why is about so Kraddick? California has changed the way it goes on propositions. Now they are all on the November ballot. I a tweet yesterday that said this is -- if it had been split up into the primary in November it would actually be pretty normal. They would be eight measures per ballot. That was about average. Now since they are combined into November, it is a lot of stuff for people to go through. I think that is why it will be important certainly to the people into the groups that measures on this ballot to see where they are placed on the ballot. There are those that think they being higher up is better because by the time to get down to the 17th measure, the voter -- A little fatigue set and. Exactly. They might pick whatever without considering what they are voting on. I should point out that the 17 measures that we are talking about our statewide measures. These do not include local measures that you might have to vote on. I understand it could be even more statewide issues on the ballot. Tell us about that. There are some bond measures that could be on their. We could see something having to do with a bond for parks. There might be other measures that the legislature could put on the ballot if they see fit. This is the 17 measures that we have for now. That could grow by the time we get to election day. At this point can we even imagine how much money is going to be spent campaigning for these initiatives? I think it is going to be very expensive to put it mildly. I know for instance that there is a measure that would basically cap how much the state can be charged for prescription drugs that it purchases for Medi-Cal beneficiaries. The pharmaceutical industry -- I did a report earlier this spring that said that campaign had already raise close to $50 million. It will be using it to campaign against this measure. I think we will be seeing a lot of spending. There is a package of gun control legislation that is on the ballot as well that is backed by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. You can imagine that groups like the NRA might decide that they want to do some spending to counteract that measure. We could be seeing a very pricey election season. Katie Orr is a politics and government reporter. Thank you. Thank you.

California is again testing how much democracy is too much, with voters facing up to 18 ballot questions in November that could end the death penalty, cut into the cost of prescription drugs and free marijuana smokers to legally light up in the nation's most populous state.

The cascade of proposals is certain to create confusion at the ballot box, along with fresh criticism that the state's system of direct democracy has run amok. Low voter turnout in 2014 meant campaigns needed relatively few signatures to qualify for the ballot.


Collectively, the proposals would cut into a broad swath of life in California, involving issues from classrooms to prisons, the porn industry to cigarette taxes.

Voters will ponder whether gun owners should be subject to background checks to buy bullets, if a state ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores is needed or whether adult film actors should wear condoms during shoots.

There are proposals to take on $9 billion in public debt to build schools, to repeal an "English-only" rule in classroom instruction approved by voters nearly two decades ago, and to require voters to sign off on huge construction projects financed by public debt, which could threaten the state's unpopular and costly high-speed rail project.

Questions on either repealing or speeding up the death penalty and legalizing recreational pot use could drive voters to the polls. But dense ballots can turn off others, warned Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, which seeks to improve the way elections are conducted.

The logjam this year can be partially attributed to the Legislature, which pushed all the ballot questions to November. The list will appear alongside the presidential contest and races for Congress and the Legislature.


"People don't like to do things they feel they are not good at, and it can be challenging for California voters to feel confident about their choices," Alexander said.

Simply sifting through the details of the proposals can be a tricky, time-consuming task. For example, it will be a tough sell to get voters to read the fine print in the 15-page proposal to overturn a 2014 law to ban single-use plastic bags at supermarkets.

Then there's the so-called Children's Education and Health Care Protection Act, which was cleared for the ballot on Thursday. In effect, the measure raises taxes by extending a post-recession, personal income tax increase for a dozen years that was sold to voters by Gov. Jerry Brown and other supporters as "temporary."

Brown, a Democrat nearing the end of his final term, has not endorsed it.

However, Brown did qualify his own proposal to allow earlier parole in certain cases for non-violent felons and let judges decide which juvenile offenders are tried as adults, part of his plan to cut the prison population.

While the array of questions can be daunting, long ballots in California are more routine than not.

Since 1912, state general elections have averaged about 18 ballot questions, according to the Initiative & Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. The record for a cluttered election was set in 1914, when voters had to sift through 48 questions.

As of Thursday, 17 questions had qualified for the November ballot, either through petition drives or by approval by the Legislature, according to the secretary of state.

Along with the tax-increase extension, another other proposal cleared for the ballot Thursday would raise California's cigarette tax by $2 a pack to $2.87, making it ninth-highest in the nation.

One other proposal still pending Thursday that was being contemplated by the state legislature would allow the state to sell $3 billion in bonds for maintenance at state and local parks.

Voters typically find shortcuts to navigate long ballots, such as looking for endorsements from people or groups they trust, or finding out who is financing the proposal to judge its intention, said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

"People in California know, when in doubt, vote no," Sonenshein said.