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Democracy, California Brand

     I try with modest success to be a good California citizen, so I have spent some time reading a pamphlet and a guide mailed to every voter in advance of the March 7 primary election. The "Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet" has 56 pages, 28 in English 28 in Spanish. If you want the information in another language, you call a given number. This is just for Santa Clara County, one of the 58 counties into which California is divided. Each county has to have a separate pamphlet since, in addition to the state measures there are some county ones. The pamphlet gives the names of the candidates for a variety of offices and a summary of the 19 state propositions. Each of the candidates for county offices gets half a page to state his qualifications. This is helpful, since most of them are little known. No information is given about the candidates for US President, Senator or Representative or for the state senate and assembly. The public is expected to be informed about them. I am about some, but not all.
     However, the tough reading is a 146-page (8.5x11) Voter Information Guide for all the state, printed apparently only in English. It deals only with the state propositions. The text of each is followed by a long "Analysis by the Legislative Analyst", followed by two pages containing the argument in favor of the proposition, a rebuttal of it, the argument against the proposition and a rebuttal of it. Each side accuses the other of trying to put something over on the gullible public.
     Having read all 146 pages, I have firm opinions on only a few propositions, since the arguments pro and con are craftily worded and I wonder where the truth lies. Since only about half of the electors vote and apathy is widespread, it is doubtful that many people have taken the time and trouble to read the guide. I have good faculty friends who say they cannot be bothered to read it. They elected the legislators and they leave things to them.
     The major danger is that the propositions are promoted by special interest groups---gays, Latinos, Indians, etc-- who simply instruct their group and sympathizers to vote for or against x, y and z. This would be especially true of low education groups, especially those who do not know English. It would be impossible for a voter who does not know English to vote in an informed way.
     California is the state which makes most use of the proposition or initiative process. It works in a country like Switzerland, but, given the low level of education in California generally, is seems alas ahead of its time.

Ronald Hilton - 2/26/00