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How To Cope With That ‘Too Darn Long’ California Ballot

Photo caption:

Photo by Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Deborah Barron (third from left) hosts a proposition party at her home in San Francisco's Mission District.

There were plenty of handouts to go with the snacks and drinks at Deborah Barron’s proposition party at her home in San Francisco’s Mission District.

In addition to California’s 17 propositions, San Francisco voters face an astounding 25 local measures.

The half-dozen adults divvied up the prep work and took turns leading the discussion, starting with Proposition 51, the $9 billion statewide school bond.

“I mean, I don’t know,” said Barron, an attorney in private practice. “Normally, I am ‘Yes’ on education ones, but...”

“I’m kind of ‘No’ on this too,” chimed in Eric Quandt of Berkeley, who works in the San Francisco Public Defender’s office.

“That’s how I feel,” added Jane Ivory Ernstthal. “But I feel so wrong!”

The crowd laughed. “Are you voting against the education of our youth?” Barron quipped.

The group quickly got frustrated.

“Everybody’s got college educations,” Barron vented to the room. “Almost everybody has a master’s degree in some area. All of us work in things that are impacted by this. Numerous of us are attorneys, who read law for a living. And we still can’t figure out how to vote!”

Even if you’ve made your choice for president, voting can be a lot of work. And nowhere more so than here in California, where voters will decide a record 650 local measures on top of the 17 state propositions.

And if it’s this hard for people who’ve been voting for years, imagine what it’s like for rookies.

Photo caption:

Photo by Capital Public Radio

A sample ballot and California's official 2016 voter information guide.

“It’s just a lot, a lot to deal with,” said Carlos Hurtado, a junior transfer student at UC Davis, as he registered to vote in October on National Voter Registration Day. “I gotta take some time on the weekend to look over everything.”

Asked if he planned to vote on all of the ballot measures, Hurtado replied, “The ones that I feel strongly about.”

“I’ll probably just scan it, see what interests me,” said Julietta Zuvia, a first-year UC Davis student from Yuba City.

That strategy might make some long-time voters cringe, but not Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation.

“I worry that people look at these 17 propositions and mistakenly think they have to vote on every single one of them,” Alexander said, “which they don’t.”

She said it’s far better to leave something blank than to do what voters typically do, which is vote "no."

And for voters overwhelmed by all those state ballot measures, here’s Alexander’s California election tradition: the "Proposition Song." The chorus:

"It’s the Proposition Song.

You should all be singing along.

’Cause the ballot is too darn long…"

Besides the state’s official voter information guide, there are also myriad online guides: professional and amateur, with graphics, videos and even mock text message chats. And then, there are proposition haikus from Los Angeles Democratic Party activist Damian Carroll:

"Proposition 59"

Asks to overturn

Citizens United, But

Shucks, it’s non-binding

Carroll paired his haikus for the rival death penalty initiatives:

"Proposition 62"

Vote for this one if

You want to eliminate

The death penalty

"Proposition 66"

If you want the state

To execute more people

This one is for you

California’s ballot is the longest in the nation this year. The second-longest is Alabama, with 14.

But as long as this ballot might seem, it’s right at California’s historical average. And it’s nowhere near the state’s longest ever. That would be 48 — way back in 1914.

Election 2020 news coverage

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio. Our coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.


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