If you live in California, vote NO Tuesday

It’s election time and once again Californians have to consider a whole host of ballot propositions on issues about which most of us know nothing.

As usual, the ones that have gotten the most attention are two hot-button social issues. A yes vote on Proposition 4 would require doctors to notify parents of pregnant minors seeking abortions. And Proposition 8 places the question of gay marriage before voters yet again.

There are 10 other state propositions that would issue billions of dollars in bonds in our nearly bankrupt state, improve life for farm animals, change sentencing rules for judges, force utilities to generate power from renewable energy, and so on.

In the past eight years, Californians have had more than 100 state propositions to consider ranging from Indian gaming compacts to chiropractor licensing. And that’s not counting the dozens of county and city initiatives. I, for one, am sick of it.

I used to spend considerable effort going through the phone-book sized voter guide. This time, I saved myself a lot of time. When I cast my absentee ballot a few weeks ago, I went down the line and filled in the “no” bubble for every single state proposition on the ballot.

Why? Because a no vote on a proposition changes nothing and puts the issue back where it belongs:  in the California Legislature. It’s the legislature’s job to consider these issues, understand the implications pro and con, hold hearings, hear from lobbyists and their constituents, talk to their colleagues and make an informed decision.

California’s initiative process is completely broken. Time and again, the initiatives passed by voters turn out to be ambiguous and too complex with many exceeding 10,000 words. The courts often throw them out. If they don’t, we’re stuck with them: California is the only state that doesn’t allow its legislature to amend initiatives after passage.

Nearly a century ago, California voters overwhelmingly approved the initiative system as a way to wrest control of the political process from  special interests like the Southern Pacific Railroad. It was supposed to empower ordinary citizens, but today it only serves the special interests. According to the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles think tank, the year we last saw an initiative qualify on the effort of volunteers was 1982.

Who are these special interests? People with money. Two-thirds of all contributions now come in amounts of $1 million or more. In 2006, Hollywood producer Steven Bing spent more than $48 million to finance Proposition 87, an alternative energy measure, but lost to an even costlier effort financed by oil companies.

An industry has sprung up to cater to these people. It costs about $3 million to qualify a measure for the ballot by paying people to sit outside supermarkets and hassle you for your signature. But the big money is in advertising. Two years ago, a total of $330 million was spent on all the measures in the general election, including $154 million on Bing’s Prop 87.

This is madness. Money has corrupted the initiative process, subverted its noble intent of empowering citizens, and turned propositions into tools for wealthy, special interests who can’t get what they want from our hapless legislature.

It’s time for average citizens to stop pretending that we are lawmakers. Stop encouraging the special interests. Take back the process by voting no on ALL propositions this November and every November and help to fix California’s broken political system.

Voting no on all state propositions isn’t liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican. It’s a vote against the special interests and the money that ruined the process. It’s a vote in favor of good government. So, as Nancy Reagan liked to say, just say no.


  1. Avram Frankel

    Seth, I agree with your blog on voting no for the most part – I have felt like that at every election in CA for a long time now. However, the one proposition I did vote for was Prop 11 as we need to take the assembly and senate redistricting process out of the hands of the legislature. This is exactly the kind of legislature-controlled issue the proposition process was designed to fix. And now that I am on my virtual soap box, the other thing I hope the process will eventually achieve is to reverse the Prop. 13 provision on requiring 2/3rds vote for any tax increase whether by proposition or in the legislature. It’s tyranny of the minority and it’s killing the state.

  2. Alex Roth

    I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’ve basically voted no on every single California proposition for the past ten years. The proposition system produces an endless string of moronic, ill-considered laws year after year.

  3. Martina

    You’ve done it again–translated madness and layers of double-negatives
    into something I can do business with. Thank you for making it simple,
    so I can KEEP it simple. You’re genius….
    …. whatever you do, keep on writing: when’s your next book coming?
    “Feasting on the Spoils” was great—what’s next??

  4. sara

    there is nothing worse than an ill-prepared voter arriving at the polls with an unopened voter’s guide in hand, hoping that she will be able to make out the truth behind the rhetoric of the propositions within the few minutes she has in the polling booth. Inevitably she is caught up in the jungle of language where no means yes, and yes, means maybe. she takes a few jabs at the circles and rushes through the whole process with an ominous feeling. “did i vote yes, and does that mean: yes, i don’t want this prop, or yes, i do?” So Seth, are you sure that voting no, down the line always means no to the prop? help this ignorant slut learn how to just say no!

  5. sethhett

    V writes:

    As much as I love your journalism style and I do. I am strongly in favor of YES on Prop 2. See, it’s like this Seth. I love hamburgers. And I want to know that the hamburger that I eat had a happy life before it went to MOO MOO Heaven. We all die at some point, but it’s the quality of life while here on earth that counts. This would include “All Creatures, Great and Small”..

    Thank you,

    So I will be voting yes on Prop 2. As are all of my friends. Trust me, I have NO friends who would vote otherwise. And therefore I will not be passing on your otherwise smart message.

  6. Dan Anderson

    I disagree with voting no on all propositions. State bond issues and constitutional amendments have to be approved by BOTH the legislature AND the people. So, you’re voting no even on things the legislature already approved.

    I do agree with you about INITIATIVE propositions, which are generally special interest legislature put on the ballot by paid signature gatherers.

  7. J.J. Roco

    Indeed I do live in Cali, but my “no” approach is a tad different. In my opinion, most of us are deluding ourselves into believing we actually make an impact on the system. Despite the hanging CHAD of 2000, little has the electronic voting system been an improvement in the current form and a quote attributed to Stalin (though I doubt any dictator would really say this): [paraphrased] “It’s not those who vote that count, it’s those who count the vote,” couldn’t be more apropos. In order to prevent my disdain and cynicism from rotting me inside, my attitude is now one of fun and enjoyment as I bubble in my ballot not unlike the way I fill in a lottery ticket or a Keno card: with the foreknowledge that I’m the big loser. But if I must do my civic duty, then why not make it a game? So the way I say “no” is to watch carefully for those characters eliciting that common taste of bile in my mouth. Actors, Senators, school superintendents…any of those who show their face and tell me how they want me to vote, I then vote “NO” against their position (e.g.- Diane [“Franken”] Feinstein in a TV ad tells me to vote NO on prop 5, so I vote “YES”). For me it’s like sports: I don’t hate the players, just their fans. Combine that with my vote for ALL candidates who are NOT incumbents, and you have my format for voting “NO” in November.

  8. Greg Moran

    I’ve been muttering the same thing for years, but not as eloquently. One exception–bond/spending issues. I actually consider those for many of the same reasons Dan outlines. Vote no sometimes, sometimes yes. On all the leg stuff, it’s an auto NO.

  9. Todd Cleary

    Seth – I generally agree with you but I follow a slightly different approach. I do still read about the initiatives but if I am not quickly struck that I support an initiative (like the local SF initiative to name a sewage treatment plant after George W. Bush) I vote no. Perhaps we need to mount a ballot initiative to change the iniative system . . .

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