Voters are in store for another thick November ballot — one that will offer up more statewide initiatives than IHOP has pancake dishes. With California Secretary of State Alex Padilla certifying 17 ballot measures late last week — the most for any election since March 2000, when the state’s voters grappled with 20 measures — local residents can expect to cast upward of five double-sided pages worth of votes and receive election guides that could number more than 200 pages, said Joe Canciamilla, Contra Costa County’s election chief. “The ballot is just going to be a nightmare,” he said. As voters labor over questions about legalizing marijuana, eliminating the death penalty and making adult film actors wear condoms during sex, studies show that nearly 1 in 10 of them will likely give up before making it to the raft of local races, including a $3 billion BART bond measure. And many more will find themselves nixing initiatives they never had the time to grasp, said Shaun Bowler, a ballot measure expert at UC Riverside.
“The conventional wisdom is the more propositions you have, the more ‘no’ voting you get because people say, ‘I don’t want to take the time to figure this out,’ ” he said. But that’s the price of the election business in California, where the state’s century-old commitment to direct democracy is both a hallowed institution and a source of ritual bellyaching.
Many of the measures on the upcoming ballot were destined to go before voters because state law requires any constitutional amendment and nearly all general obligation bonds to receive public consent.
California also has a relatively low bar for citizens — or well-heeled interest groups — to circumvent the Legislature and go directly to the voters. Low turnout in the 2014 election reduced the number of signatures needed to qualify a ballot measure. And a 2011 law pushed nearly all measures to November, when voter turnout is highest.