California Counts

A collaboration between Capital Public Radio, KQED, KPCC and KPBS to cover the 2016 elections in California.

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Your Guide To Coping With The 'Too Darn Long' California Ballot

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

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

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

There are 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 state ballot measures, San Francisco voters face an astounding 25 local measures.

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

“I mean, I don’t know,” says Barron, a 43-year-old attorney in private practice. “Normally, I am ‘Yes’ on education ones, but...”

“I’m kind of ‘No’ on this too,” chimes in 43-year-old Eric Quandt of Berkeley, who works in the San Francisco Public Defender’s office.

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

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

The group quickly gets frustrated.

“Everybody’s got college educations,” Barron vents 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!”

Voter Guides -SF-California 103116

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

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 17 state ballot measures in Tuesday’s election – plus a record 650 local measures.

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

“It’s just a lot, a lot to deal with,” says Carlos Hurtado, a junior transfer student at UC Davis, as he registered to vote last month 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,” says 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 says, “which they don’t.”

She says 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…"

“Love it or hate it, California voters get to make law directly when we vote,” Alexander says. “And that’s a huge amount of power – especially when you’re talking about California, because we are a very influential state.”

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 chatsAnd then, there are Proposition Haiku, from Los Angeles Democratic Party activist Damian Carroll.

For example...

Proposition 59

Asks to overturn
Citizens United, But
Shucks, it’s non-binding
 

Carroll paired his Haiku 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.