If you are informed about the presidential race, registered to vote and cast your vote for either candidate, you probably think you’re politically active and have done your part in the election. When people think about elections, they think of voting for president. However, the presidential race is only the tip of the ballot’s iceberg. A whole slew of propositions are up for popular vote this November, but because of the blinding emphasis on the presidential candidacy and obstructions to understanding state propositions, voters are largely uniformed about them. Misleading or ambiguous titles, tricky wording, and overall lack of knowledge about propositions lead voters to make uniformed choices and allow politicians to get away with things that voters surely would not vote for if they knew what they were supporting.
Although presidential campaigns are well-funded and far-reaching, propositions often do not receive the same attention. Everyone has heard of Romney and Obama, but many Americans have no idea what propositions are on their state ballot, even though in actuality they may have an equal or greater impact on their lives. The extensive movement to get out the vote seems to be working to aim these votes towards a presidential candidate; there is little effort to get people to find out about their state measures. As a journalist and a college student at a liberal school, I think it is safe to say that I am more informed about politics than many Americans. Still, I had absolutely no idea what any of the propositions meant until a few weeks ago, and that’s because I took the initiative myself to research them. The majority of Americans don’t have the time to do this, don’t even know where to begin, or don’t care enough. But with the presidential race, information is so forcefully shoved down people’s throats that people don’t have to do any research themselves to get a basic idea. The media focuses so much on the horse race of the presidential election that it widely ignores many other things on the ballot. So while you’re sure to know at least a little bit about the presidential race, it is entirely possible, and in fact much easier than the alternative, to know absolutely nothing about the propositions.
Advertising for candidates is far easier to do and for voters to perceive. Telling someone to vote for a candidate is easy; you can simply put up a sign with their name and what they’re running for and people get the idea. If people know the person, what position they’re running for, and what they look like, it’s easy to at least think you understand.
For propositions, however, signs say “Yes on 32!” or “No on 37!” This means absolutely nothing if you don’t already know the issues, and makes the message much harder to quickly communicate in a way that people can internalize. Branding choices for voters with numbers instead of names makes propositions much more ambiguous than candidate races. It is also sometimes unclear what a yes on no vote really means for a proposition. This impacts campaigning because a “Yes” or “No” message doesn’t carry as much meaning as a “vote for Obama” would, and because when voters are actually casting their ballots they may not even be voting for the end result that they want.
Also, because propositions don’t run under a party (although parties do take an official stance on them), it’s harder for voters to classify them and make a choice on a partisan basis. For Congressional races, for example, if you aren’t familiar with the candidates, you can just pick the one from your party and have a pretty good chance that they will align with your beliefs. You can find your party’s stance on a given proposition as well, but this requires research and is not always as clear-cut.
Proposition 32 is a great example of misleading rhetoric. It uses tricky wording to carry out exactly the opposite end result that it appears to promise. Advertised as an act of campaign finance reform, as well as an end to making union workers donate money to candidates they may not support (often referred to as the “paycheck protection” initiative), it seems that this proposition is aimed at fighting special interest money and empowering individual workers in unions. When one takes a closer look, then, it seems a little weird that the bill originated from Republicans in Orange County, that the main supporters are rich conservatives, and that teachers and unions all over the states are strongly opposed to it.
Why is corporate money and influence all of a sudden something that the Republicans are so dedicated to fighting against? Something’s fishy here.
“Prop. 32 is deliberately written to look like campaign reform — but it’s not,” Helen Hutchison of the League of Women Voters of California says in a recent ad. “It actually gives power to Wall Street, Big Oil and those secret campaign Super PACS.”
The bill would ban corporations and unions from donating money directly to campaigns, and prohibit corporations and unions from donating money from automatic salary deductions to campaigns. What’s tricky about this bill is that these restrictions would cripple union’s political contributions, while ultimately having little effect on corporate money. But because corporations don’t have laborers (they have shareholders), the money that they donate rarely comes from payroll deductions and instead comes from their profit, so they can just donate money indirectly through a super-PAC. Unions, on the other hand, use payroll deduction as their primary method for raising political funds. As a result, Prop. 32 would very disproportionately affect unions (and thwart their political power) and allow corporate money to have a bigger influence in campaigns. Because unions donate money towards the democratic party, it’s no wonder that Republicans support this bill and are all of a sudden concerned about “special interest money.”
Although not deliberately deceptive like Prop 32, Prop 30 and 38 (both aimed at raising taxes to fund public education) are both measures on the 2012 ballot that may be affected by voter misunderstandings.
Proposition 30 is a measure proposed by Gov. Brown, which would raise the sales tax and increase income taxes for the wealthy. The money would not be explicitly designated for schools, but rather support the state’s general budget. Molly Munger, a multimillionaire civil rights attorney, has invested millions to get Prop 38 off the ground. Prop 38 would raise taxes more generally across the board, ultimately raising more money and making sure it actually goes to schools by distributing this revenue as school grants and debt payments and allowing it to bypass the Legislature.
If both of these measure pass, the one with the most votes will be enacted. However, this is unclear to many voters, who think they can only vote for one. Voters who want to support public education should vote for both propositions, but a lack of understanding could take votes away both of them. As a result, although both bills are aimed at funding public education, their dual existence could end up keeping either of them from passing, similar to the effect of a third party.
Although shady politics and overcomplicated legislation may be the root cause of these problems, there is a more simple and direct solution that voters can employ without tackling these larger issues. This solution is to take even ten minutes and get informed about what’s on your ballot. With the internet at our fingertips, it’s very easy to get a summary/explanation of each proposition and arguments for both sides. So get your head out of your ass – oops, I meant the presidential race – and get informed!