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Despite the challenges voters face, do not underestimate the power of your vote and continue to fight for change
As deciding votes are still being counted in key states across the country, many Americans are focused on the outcome of the tight presidential race between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. But in California, where 74% of the votes have been counted as of Thursday morning, outcomes from the twelve contested and often confusing ballot measures have emerged, sparking a discussion about some of the unexpected results.
While a few measures are still too close to call, Californians were very decisive on issues concerning the criminal justice system. Proposition 20, calling for harsher sentencing laws and stronger parole restrictions for those convicted of misdemeanors, failed by roughly 25 points—the second largest margin for a proposition on this ballot. At the same time, Californians reinstated the voting rights of tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals through the passage of Proposition 17, a major step in the right direction for criminal justice reform.
Yet Proposition 25, which proposed a risk assessment system to replace the money bail system, failed by 10 points. Though this would have eliminated some of the economic burdens placed on poorer individuals in the justice system, the criteria for how risk would be determined by a computer-generated system remained unclear in the short explanations on the ballot.
This highlights one of the larger issues with California’s ballot measures system. Voters often have to spend extra time independently researching measures to gain a deeper sense of the implications of their vote beyond the summaries found in the Official Voter Information Guide. For instance, voters might be surprised to learn that Proposition 21 is supported by the Democratic Party but opposed by Governor Gavin Newsom and that rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft spent a record $205 million dollars to promote the passage of Proposition 22.
For first-time voters and voters whose first language isn’t English, this can be a very intimidating and time-consuming process, particularly when your decision might hinge on the nuanced connotation of a word.
Even the initial summary of the propositions—theoretically the most neutral aspect of the ballot followed by the “What Your Vote Means” and “Argument” sections—can be frustratingly vague and misleading. The highly controversial Proposition 22, which passed with about a 17 point margin, was framed as a classification difference that “provides independent-contractor drivers other compensation, unless certain criteria are met,” without explaining the details of the criteria or how the terms independent contractor and employee are defined by the state.
Additionally, the initial summary of each proposition always includes the direct fiscal impact that the proposition will have on the state, but leaves the deeper implications of how this will affect individuals and their rights to the impartial arguments section or the voters’ own research. If the initial summary of Proposition 22 was more comprehensive in explaining how rideshare drivers would lose their right to unionize if classified as independent-contractors, Californians might have voted differently. Even if it addressed the deeper fiscal impacts for the state beyond the “minor increase in state income taxes”—like a potential increase in state healthcare costs for drivers who are not provided insurance through rideshare companies because they are not classified as employees—voters might have had a better understanding of how their vote would impact Californians.
While The Editorial Board encourages everyone to exercise their right to vote, we understand that it is not as accessible or clear of a process as it should be, and we commend the 11.8 million Californians whose votes have been counted so far in this year’s election.
While California has some of the best voter protections in the country (i.e. same-day voter registration and allowing mail-in ballots to be received several days after an election), the state could do more to provide comprehensive and accessible voting information for those who face barriers in understanding the nuances of ballot measures and may not be able to research them on their own. Especially during the pandemic, when resources like internet access at libraries and in-person events have been limited at best, it is important to note that voting is not an easy task for everyone; but this election has shown us that when we do vote, our voices are just as powerful, despite the challenges we may face.
Californians have passed some groundbreaking progressive reforms during this election, but certain measures that have seemed fairly straightforward, like Proposition 16, have failed. We share your frustration and want to remind students that progress towards fighting injustices is not always immediate, even when it should be. Just like the presidential votes being tallied across the nation, we encourage everyone to be patient and diligent and to continue to fight for what’s right through voting and other forms of activism.
Written by: The Editorial Board