Thursday, July 14, 2005

AP story: California Election Cycle Burns Out Voters

Michael R. Blood's Associated Press story on California's upcoming statewide special election made big news. News organizations all over the country picked up this story, focused on the question of whether there is such a thing as too much democracy?

Excerpt below:


Is there such a thing as too much democracy? California voters are in the midst of what might seem like a never-ending election cycle - soon to decide their fourth statewide election in two years - and some of them are starting to get burned out.

The cavalcade of candidates and ballot propositions - dating to the October 2003 election that put Arnold Schwarzenegger in office - has left many weary of the baggage that goes along with the elections: the high cost, the finger-pointing and the barrage of television commercials.

``I'm not looking forward to another special election,'' said 61-year-old retiree Mike Wells. ``I'm not too happy.''

Schwarzenegger's determination to get a tighter grip on the state budget and retool a Legislature known for its political extremes has led to the November special election. Eight initiatives have qualified for the November ballot, and the number could grow even larger by Election Day.

After years of runaway spending and increasing public debt, the governor has argued his ``Year of Reform'' initiatives are critical to changing the way state government operates. His supporters are equally eager to push for the ballot measures this year, rather than waiting until the state's June 2006 primary.

``I have no patience for folks who say, 'I have voter-fatigue,''' Fresno Mayor Alan Autry, a fellow Republican, said after Schwarzenegger called the special election last month. ``The governor's trying to solve problems. I fully support him.''

The governor's proposals would give him a stronger hand in state spending, redraw congressional and legislative districts and raise the bar for teachers to obtain tenure.

Other measures would require minors seeking abortions to get parental approval, reregulate the state's energy market and lower prescription drug prices.

But that could be just the start. The ballot could become more crowded - and confusing - if Schwarzenegger and legislators reach compromises that could place other measures before voters in November.

If that were to happen, the governor would have to persuade voters to reject his initial offerings in favor of the compromises.

``Confusion about issues on the ballot is a considerable barrier for voters in the state,'' said Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, an advocacy group. ``My fear is people who are burned out may choose to sit home.''

If recent polls are any indication, Schwarzenegger may face an uphill battle. A May survey by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that California voters view Schwarzenegger's special election an unnecessary imposition.

``People scratch their heads and say, 'Why are we doing this?''' said Democratic consultant Kam Kuwata.

Californians have long prized their system of direct democracy, in which any group that collects enough signatures can place a proposal on the ballot. At least 86 initiatives were proposed this year - a record - although most never qualify for the ballot.

But at times it can seem like too much.

Schwarzenegger barely finished the oath of office in November 2003 before the presidential election kicked into gear. There was a spring 2004 primary, followed by the November election, in which voters had to wade through a list of candidates for president, U.S. Senate, the state Legislature and 16 ballot questions that touched on issues from slot machines to DNA databases.

Then there were local elections. Los Angeles residents, for example, had a primary and runoff election for mayor this year. That means a voter could have been to the polls five times since October 2003, or an average of about once every four months.

Beyond possible voter fatigue, the state's perpetual election cycle has led to resentment about the expense - the November special election is projected to cost taxpayers more than $50 million.

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