How I decide on ballot initiatives

One of the constant joys of living in California is that every two years or so, you're presented with a list of ballot propositions on which to vote. As a lifelong Californian, I have opinions about this.

While the initiative process in California has its origins in the Progressive era (once again: learn your damn history, people) and was intended to give the people a bigger voice against the once-domineering Union Pacific Railroad and Crocker Bank, it's devolved into an excuse in many cases for 1) the legislature to punt controversial issues to the people (because politicians are cowards), 2) crackpots who can't get a hearing any other way to make a big splash, and 3) special interests and big money to do an end run around the legislature.

The question, therefore, is "How do you make decisions on all these things?" Flip a coin? Spend hours poring over research in a dusty library somewhere? If you're a Californian, you quickly get used to making snap decisions about them. While this is not ideal, and can lead to some idiotic laws getting passed, it's how a lot of people do it.

For me, I've narrowed it down to a list of questions:

  • Is it something I feel strongly about? If not, I'm not inclined to pass yet another law.
  • If it's something I feel strongly about, how do I feel about the way it's being set up? I see no reason to amend the state constitution to fund day care. Our state constitution has been amended too many times for too many minor things already.1
  • Who is supporting it? Is it bipartisan?
  • Follow the money—who's bankrolling it?
  • Is it a bond measure? Bonds have to be paid back eventually—how is the payback structured? Is it something that is appropriate or inappropriate for a 30-year bond?
  • Who stands to benefit the most if it passes?
  • How are the ballot arguments written? It sounds silly, but I've seen some egregiously badly written statements, and rightly or wrongly, I do judge people by the quality of their writing when it comes to stuff like this. If you can't take the time to properly structure your argument, why should I think you've thought through your ballot measure? This is our state government. It's important. Have someone proofread it, for God's sake.

And that's about it. Once you reduce it to its essentials, you can get through a fairly big list of propositions pretty quickly. This year, there are seventeen. A little closer to Election Day, I'll be posting my thoughts on this year's crop.


  1. That said, there are times when a constitutional amendment is justified; I'm not completely opposed to doing so.