Letters to the Editor

A guide to evaluating ballot propositions

On Nov. 4, California voters will consider six ballot propositions that, if passed, will make changes to California law. They deal with important matters: water bonds, budget reserves, health insurance rates, medical malpractice lawsuits, criminal penalties for nonviolent felonies and Indian gaming agreements.

Voters in our county will also have local ballot measures to vote on, depending upon their location. These range from a county-wide community college bond measure to local measures dealing with tax rates, school funding and development issues in the various cities. It’s not always easy to understand what a ballot measure will do, who is sponsoring it, or what it will cost. The League of Women Voters of California offers the following suggestions for voters trying to determine how to vote on the propositions. These suggestions can be applied as well to the local measures on the ballot.

Examine what the measure seeks to accomplish. Do you agree with those goals? Is the measure seeking changes that are consistent with your ideas about government? Do you think the proposed changes will make things better?

Find out who supports the measure. Who are the real sponsors and opponents of the measure? Check where the money is coming from with Maplight’s Voters Edge campaign finance website http://www.votersedge.org.

Make sure the measure is clear. Is it well written? Will it create conflicts in law that may require court resolution or interpretation? Is it “good government ,” or will it cause more problems than it will solve?

Find out how the measure will be paid for. Does it create its own revenue source? Does it mandate a government program or service without addressing how it will be funded? Does it earmark, restrict, or obligate government revenues? If so, weigh the benefit of securing funding for the measure’s program against the cost of reducing overall flexibility in the budget.

Determine whether it’s appropriate that the measure be decided by voters. Does it deal with one issue that can be easily decided by a yes or no vote? Or, is it a complex issue that should be thoroughly examined in the legislative arena?

If the measure amends the Constitution, consider whether the issue really belongs in the Constitution. Would a statute accomplish the same purpose? Remember that all constitutional amendments require voter approval: What we put into the Constitution would have to come back to the ballot to be changed.

Be wary of distortion tactics and commercials that rely on image but tell nothing of substance about the measure. Beware of half-truths. Get your information about the measure from unbiased sources, such as the League’s Easy Voter Guide at www.easyvoterguide.org   or the analysis from the Secretary of State’s office at http://www.smartvoter.org. For unbiased information on the local ballot measures, go to http://www.smartvoter.org.