California is still a leader in one area: the information it provides voters.
The voter information guide produced by the California Secretary of State is the best in the nation.
That doesn't mean it couldn't use improvement.
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I just received the ballot guide in the mail, and was struck by just how useless the ballot arguments for and against ballot measures are.
For Propositions 28 and 29, the two initiatives on the June ballot, there are four ballot arguments each: The Argument in Favor of the Proposition, the Rebuttal to The Argument in Favor of the Proposition, the Argument Against the Proposition, and the Rebuttal to the Argument Against the Proposition.
They are useless and misleading at times. The language is carefully poll-tested, and full of loaded words.
They also use lots of capital letters -- like letters you get from angry people and prisoners. Any voter relying on this for information on what the measure will do would learn very little of value.
Fortunately, the voter information guide does include non-partisan analysis from the Legislative Analyst's Office, as well as abridged descriptions of the measure.
But it would be better if the arguments for and against each measure were taken out of the hands of the campaigns -- and their consultants and pollsters.
What's a better way? Oregon's ballot guide now includes arguments from citizens' juries that study the measures, and then advance careful descriptions and the best arguments for and against each initiative.
This independent review, by citizens drawn to represent the state as a whole, would be useful for California, not merely for producing better voter guides but also in providing a forum to debate the initiatives on their merits.
Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).