California Voters Realize They Can’t Trust Themselves on Ballot Initiatives

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Maybe the California public is waking up to its own culpability in the state's civic dysfunction.

A new post-election poll from the Public Policy Institute of California has this remarkable finding: less than half of voters (43 percent) in the survey say they have confidence in voters to make public policy decisions at the ballot. PPIC says this is the first time in one of its post-election surveys that the percentage of voters expressing confidence in voters' decisions was less than half.

Why does that matter? Because voters have tended to blame everybody but themselves for the slew of spending mandates, tax cuts, big bonds and governance restrictions that have turned California into an ungovernable mess -- even though virtually all of the pieces of the broken system were approved by voters.

The PPIC poll offers a breath of hope that voters understand they are part of the problem. This is terrific news. Before addicts can cure themselves (and Californians are certifiably addicted to voting for policy silver bullets at the ballot box), they must acknowledge they have a problem.

Other findings suggest that this may be the moment for initiative reform. Two-thirds of the voters in PPIC's surveys found the ballot wording too complicated or confusing. Forty-two percent of voters believe the initiative process needs major changes. Thirty-four percent believe it needs minor changes.

Strikingly, there is no real push for initiative reform -- because good government reformers see the initiative process as a way to make the changes they want. This is wrong. Seeking reform via inflexible initiatives that inevitably have errors and unintended consequences is the poison that's hurting California, not the cure. You can't reform California's system without initiative reform. And the public may be ready for it.

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