Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, now back at Stanford, tells the Sacramento Bee that California ballot initiatives are often too complicated for her to understand:
"Every time I vote in California, and the whole referendum process, I really have my reservations about it. Because I tell you, I think I'm an informed voter, and I sometimes have to read the measures six or seven times, and then sometimes I still don't understand them."
She's right. Ballot initiatives have grown longer and more complicated over the years. And even if you understand what the initiative says, you probably don't understand what its impact will be -- because initiatives often conflict with existing laws and constitutional amendments, producing results that are very difficult to predict.
Rice, to her credit, has tried to do something about this. She served on the Think Long Committee, the group convened by billionaire Nicolas Berggruen to study California's troubles. Among Think Long's recommendations are several changes to the initiative process (a brave step, since most other would-be reformers have avoided offering fixes to what remains a very popular process). Among these changes are several proposals that would give voters more and perhaps better information about initiatives, their sponsors and their possible impact on the state.
There are other ideas out there that might make things easier for voters that didn't get Think Long's endorsement. Among the most intriguing are limits on the length of initiatives and a requirement initiatives should carry party labels -- to give voters a clue about whether their political party backs a particular measure.