Wednesday, June 9, 2010

California voters pass open primary proposition, defeat big money measures

California voters spoke yesterday, and the results are in.  Prop. 14, which sets up a new open primary election system in California, passed by a wide margin.  This kind of surprised me, given that it was a Primary election and by definition more likely to attract partisans and less likely to draw out independents, who would benefit most from a change that would allow them to vote for any candidate of any primary.  But I guess partisan voters want that kind of flexibility, too.  

Frankly I was also surprised that California's minor parties came out so strongly against Prop. 14 – seems to me it is likely to boost their registration numbers because voters registered with a minor party, like the Green Party or Libertarian Party, could do so without having to sit out competitive primary elections in other parties. 

Prop. 16 was defeated, which was something of a relief.  If it passed I would be forced to revise my personal conventional wisdom about the initiative process in California.  As a twenty-year observer of California elections, I've long said that you can't win an initiative campaign without money, but you can't win with only money, either.  PG&E spent over $46 million getting Prop. 16 on the ballot and attempting to get this measure passed to change state law to benefit a single corporation.  Opponents raised less than $100,000.  It was truly a "David vs. Goliath" type of battle.

A lot of people I know, people who are smart and thoughtful and read the paper and listen to NPR, were unsure of how to vote on Prop. 16.  The commercials were so seductive - who doesn't want to protect their right to vote?  PG&E bought one of the best campaigns I have ever seen in this state.  And yet in the end voters defeated Prop. 16, and Prop. 17 as well, which also represented a single company's (Mercury General Insurance Corp.) attempt to bend California law in its favor.

I believe disclosure made a difference - not just timely and robust campaign finance disclosure, which enabled CVF and the news media to inform the voting public about the millions being spent by private companies to promote these measures, but also disclosure laws covering television ads and campaign committee names that require top donors to be identified. Such laws help level the political playing field, especially in high-stakes initiative battles such as we saw on this ballot.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Top Ten Do's and Don'ts for California Voters

I give a lot of interviews this time of year and get lots of questions from voters -- here are the top 10 voting do's and don'ts on my mind this election season:

1.  You DON'T have to vote on everything on the ballot.  You can skip contests if you like.

2. If you moved since the last election but didn't re-register, DO vote today if you moved within the same county.  Go to your new polling place, fill out a voter registration card and cast a provisional ballot.

3.  If you don't know where your polling place is, or if you are registered to vote, DO contact your county election office (some have polling place and registration lookup tools on their web sites).

4.  You DON'T have to show ID to vote, unless you are voting for the first time and are a newly-registered California voter.

5. You DO have to sign the poll book under penalty of perjury - signing and voting for someone else could land you in jail.

6.  If you are registered "decline-to-state" you DO have the right to cast a partisan ballot in either the Democratic or Republican party's primary.

7.  If you are a Decline-to-state voter, DON'T rely on your pollworker to ask you which ballot you want - procedures vary from county to county. Remember to speak up and ask for a partisan ballot at the polls if you choose to cast one.

8.  If you've misplaced or didn't receive your vote-by-mail ballot, DO still go to your polling place and vote today. You will be voting a provisional ballot so the county can verify you are not voting twice.

9. If you have a vote-by-mail ballot but didn't mail it yet, DO take it to your polling place, or any polling place in your county and cast it there.

10. DO check the back side of your ballot for additional contests - some ballots are double-sided.

KCRW election discussion hosted by Warren Olney

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing with Warren Olney, host of KCRW's "Which Way LA?" program.  Other guests included Peter Schrag and Allan Hoffenblum - good discussion all around.  An archive of the show is available online.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Campaigns raise $70 million to support and oppose state ballot props

Today the California Voter Foundation issued this news release highlighting the findings of our recent campaign finance data analysis of state proposition fundraising.

Overall $70 million has been raised to support and oppose the five measures on the ballot.  Two-thirds of all the money raised comes from just one donor, Pacific Gas & Electric, which has donated $46 million in support of Prop. 16, a measure the company is sponsoring that would impose new two-thirds voter approval requirements for local public electricity providers if enacted.  CVF's online voter guide lists the top five donors for and against each measure - this kind of information is a great short cut for voters looking for last-minute, reliable information on the state propositions.