Momentum Builds for Moving Initiatives to November — Unfortunately

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These are such bad times in California governance that the only real momentum for an election reform change is for a demonstrably bad idea.

Nevertheless, the stars seem to be lining up behind SB 202, legislation that would take all initiatives off the June primary ballot and put them on the November general election ballot.

On the left, thoughtful writers such as Peter Schrag and Harold Meyerson have lined up in favor of idea -- on the logic that it's better for people to vote on initiatives in a general election, when turnout is higher and more balanced between the parties than in a primary.

Also on the left, interest gropus less interested in ideas than these writers see political advantage in forcing two initiatives designed to reduce labor power from next June's primary -- when Republicans are expected to turn out in greater numbers -- to November.

On the right, a new Field Poll shows broad popular support for the change -- including among Republicans, by a 52 to 37 percent margin among those surveyed.

With support on left and right, it's a good bet that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign the legislation.

But that would be a setback for sane initiative reform and for voters, for reasons we described in detail here.

The short version: it's bad enough that California stuffs long lists of statewide initiatives onto primary and general election ballots that are already full of races for federal, state, and local offices, as well as local ballot measures.

Such long lists make it hard for each initiative to get the attention and scrutiny it needs. 

This switch will make things a little bit worse, by stuffing all initiatives onto the same, even longer general election ballot.

That's a great thing if you're a rich person or group that wants to slip through an idea without public scrutiny or consideration. It doesn't make much sense for California.

This change also may make it harder to do what's needed: remove initiatives and other ballot measures from the candidate election calendar entirely, and have voters examine these questions of direct legislation separately, in quarterly elections that allow each measure to have plenty of scrutiny.

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