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Nonpartisan Website Puts Information on Statewide Initiatives at Voters’ Fingertips

Want to cut through the clutter of partisan chatter? California’s primary election is nearly here. And, as usual, the political season has swept in with masses of mailers and contradictory commercials. The barrage, instead of informing voters about the statewide initiatives on the ballot, can easily leave them overwhelmed and confused.

If you are not quite sure how to vote on propositions 28 and 29, want to share how you are voting with others, or just want additional information in advance of the June 5 election – which also premieres a new primary system – consider visiting the interactive website CaliforniaChoices.org, “a nonpartisan clearinghouse for state governance reform issues.”

California Choices is a collaboration of the nonprofit organization Next 10, the department of political science at UC San Diego and the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.

California elections put incredible power in the hands of voters to reshape our constitution and to make policy decisions where billions of dollars and many lives are at stake,” said Thad Kousser, associate professor of political science in UC San Diego’s Division of Social Sciences and one of the experts involved in California Choices since its beginnings two years ago.

“California Choices is designed to put expert, nonpartisan information at voters’ fingertips so that they can make informed decisions,” Kousser said. “We want to give voters reliable information about propositions, without the slant of campaigns or the hyperbole of many Internet sites.”

The newly updated website features comprehensive information about the statewide June ballot initiatives – including endorsements, polling data, pro and con arguments, video clips from supporters and opponents, recent press coverage, in-depth background information and more.

California Choices offers an in-depth look at the two propositions up for a vote:

  • Proposition 28, which, if adopted, would change term limits for state lawmakers, cutting their possible time at the Capitol from 14 years to 12 years, while allowing lawmakers to spend all of those years in one house.
  • Proposition 29, which would up the cigarette tax by a dollar per pack, with revenues funding cancer research and tobacco prevention programs.

The popular and interactive “endorsements tool” allows users to see which statewide newspapers, nonprofits, unions and political parties endorse or reject these two ballot measures.

Users can also share how they are planning to vote via email and Facebook with friends and family.

“California Choices is unique because we’re not trying to convince voters to cast their ballot one way or another. We are dedicated to providing information on politics and public policy so that voters feel confident in their decisions,” said Jack Citrin, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. “We hope the research guides we develop for California Choices not only inform voters, but also encourage new voters to get involved in the process and get engaged in issues that are important to them.”

Also new this election: The California Choices website links to a step-by-step “Easy Voter Guide” from the League of Women Voters, to walk voters through a new and potentially confusing ballot.

California has adopted a “top-two” primary system, due to a voter-approved ballot initiative in 2010 (Proposition 14). Now, all candidates running in a primary election for voter-nominated offices appear on a single primary ballot, regardless of the voter’s party affiliation. The two candidates who earn the most votes face off against each other in a general election in November.

“This new primary system is changing the way we send elected leaders to Sacramento and Washington,” said UC San Diego’s Kousser. “Democrats can cross over to vote for Republicans and vice versa. It will be interesting to see if this new primary system could be a game changer for the parties.”

California Choices launched in 2010, following a governance reform conference in Sacramento the prior year that drew 400 policymakers and scholars, including Kousser.

In addition to Next 10, UC San Diego, and UC Berkeley, founding partners also included the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University and the Center for California Studies at California State University Sacramento.

UC San Diego faculty, graduate students and undergraduates collaborated with researchers across the state to construct the website, Kousser said, and 50,000 voters visited the site before the 2010 election to study up on ballot propositions.