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Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 6:34 am | Fair 41º


Brian Goebel: California Needs a Proposition Limiting the Number of Ballot Propositions

If you haven’t tuned out the upcoming election because of distaste for the presidential candidates or apathy in light of one-party rule here in California, you might have noticed that there are 17 — yes, 17 — statewide propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The only way to keep track of them is to peruse your 224-page — yes, 224-page — Official Voter Information Guide. Even the most conscientious and informed voters will not read the entire guide, particularly the text of the actual propositions, which might as well be “blah blah blah.”

Indeed, how realistic is it to expect voters to read such a guide when many (excluding members of the 2040 Matters community, of course) will not read a 224-word blog post on their smart phones?

And even if a voter were to read the entire guide, he or she may not be satisfied with the quality of the information it provides regarding the purpose, costs and benefits associated with various propositions. Many of the arguments in favor and against the various propositions literally start and end with: “Don’t be fooled” by the other side.

If you are a voter who does not want to be fooled, what do you have to do before casting your vote? You have to conduct independent research into the propositions.

Ideally, you would like to:

» Read carefully reasoned statements in favor and against the policy changes contained in the pPropositions, supported with annotations and evidence, rather than hyperbole, ALLCAPS and exclamation points

» Hear thoughtful interviews in which proponents and detractors were forced to justify their positions and rebut their opponents’ arguments

» Review independent assessments of the propositions from knowledgeable third parties and policy experts

» Consider the costs and benefits of the status quo as well as alternatives to the proposed policy changes

This would be a lot of work — far more than most people have the time to do. So, if you were serious about getting it done, you would almost certainly have to pay someone to perform the research and analysis, and then make policy recommendations for you.

The good news is that you are already paying two people to perform this job for you: Your Assembly member and your state senator.

The bad news is that they are not doing their jobs, which is why we have 17 propositions on our ballot, many of which cover critical public policy issues that deserve thorough analysis and debate in the Legislature rather than decision by direct democracy in a state in which political scientists have posed the provocative question: “Are Californian voters too ignorant to vote?”

If you want to make legislators do their jobs, improve public policy and make the ballot more manageable in future years, you should support a proposition that limits the number of propositions that can appear on a ballot. Our vote would be for no more than three.

This would be a worthy undertaking for the 2040 Matters community leading up to the 2018 elections. Who’s in?

For the Nov. 8 ballot, your best approach is to vote “no” on a proposition unless you have done your homework and determined that the proposition represents the best approach for dealing with a critical public policy problem.

Using this approach, only Proposition 54 clearly deserves a “yes” vote; a handful of propositions warrant careful assessment (52, 53, 58, 62, 64 and 66).

If you are interested in obtaining additional information on the other propositions, we would recommend you consult the Reason in Government, Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times guides, and also read as many op-eds as you can on the various propositions, like the Los Angeles Times op-ed recommending a “no” vote on Proposition 55.

Just doing this level of research and analysis will likely convince you that capping the number of ballot propositions is a good idea for a future proposition.

— Brian Goebel is editor in chief of the nonpartisan 2040 Matters, a Santa Barbara-based public policy blog dedicated to restoring the American Dream for “Generation X+” and future generations by combating declining civic engagement and offering alternatives to political polarization. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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