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Should Initiatives Be on June or November Ballot? Neither

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Damn the Initiatives

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One can judge the quality of a state's politics by the quality of its political disagreements.

Which is why the debate over Senate Bill 202 speaks volumes about the sorry state of California.

SB 202 is the bill -- snuck through by Democrats with no real debate or scrutiny -- to move all ballot initatives next year from the June primary ballot to the November ballot.

This has touched off a big debate.

Is it a dirty trick to move initiatives late in the legislative session when people have already begun political work for next year?

Is it better to have initiatives voted upon in November during a general election, when more people turn out than they do during a primary?

Is this just a way for unions to gain a political upperhand?

As it happens, the answer to all these questions is yes. But the questions -- and the debate miss the point.

Because the choices -- a June primary or a November general election as the ballot for initiative miss the point.

A June primary is a terrible time to vote on initiatives. A November general election is a terrible time to vote on initiatives. For the same reason in both cases.

That reason? Both those ballots are long ballots full of candidate races.

Initiatives will merely add to the length and complexity of ballots that are already too long.

With a presidential campaign gobbling up attention on both ballots, many initiatives won't get the separate, deep scrutiny that every measure needs -- especially in California where, once an initiative passes, it's next to impossible to change it.

Which is why the right answer to the question of when we should vote on initiatives is not June and not November -- the right answer is: on special election dates that don't coincide with candidate elections.

If California were to take initiative and referendum elections seriously, the state would give ballot measures their own separate calendar.

The state could hold votes four times a year, considering a handful of initiatives each time. This way, each initiative would get its day in the sun.

For more details, please check out my original proposal in the LA Times.

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