I filled out my mail-in ballot on Friday. Too late to mail it, so I'll drop it off in person on Tuesday. It's a big ballot: Three national offices, 2 state, 4 local, 10 state propositions and three local propositions - so I'm glad I had time to do my homework.
I'll be working at the neighborhood polling precinct on Tuesday (crossing off peoples' names and addresses, giving out "I voted" stickers, etc.) It will at least give me something to do all day besides obsessively check early poll results over and over again.
There is some big stuff on the California ballot this year. We have the chance to end the death penalty, for one.
Not real happy with how Obama turned out on civil liberties. But I'll support him over Romney as the lesser of two evils, easily.
My internal debate ran along the lines of the dueling Atlantic articles Why I Refuse To Vote For Obama and Why I Refuse To Refuse To Vote For Obama, which comes down to categorical imperative versus utilitarianism. I found the latter more convincing.
I'm not in a swing state so I was tempted to vote third-party. But then I look at how the polls are basically tied right now, and how there's a significant chance Obama could win the electoral college but lose the popular vote, and I don't want that. We'd never hear the end of it.
Not happy with Feinstein either, as she supported SOPA and NDAA and other attacks on civil liberties. I voted against her in the primaries.
But I can't justify anything that would increase the Republicans' chances of controlling both houses. There's not even a third-party running. So I guess I'll hold my nose, vote for Feinstein, continue writing her letters begging her to change her positions, and support any Democrat who wants to challenge her.
In the abstract I would love to be one of those "swing voters". But doing so would require Republicans to be substantially less insane.
I actually like Anna Eshoo a lot, so this is an easy one.
State Senator, district 13:
Thanks to the "jungle primary" rule that California passed as a ballot proposition in 2008 (The two candidates with the most primary votes, regardless of party, go on to the general election), we now have two Democrats running against each other for state senator of district 13.
Jerry Hill (incumbent) and Sally Lieber (challenger) are almost identical policy-wise. I voted for Sally Lieber as she is trying to campaign with less money, she has some pretty decent legislative accomplishments and she didn't bury our house under a non-stop flood of obnoxious mail advertisements like Jerry Hill did.
State Assembly, district 24:
Voted for Richard Gordon, the incumbent. He's actually gotten a rather impressive amount of stuff done in just 2 years in office.
Chengzhi "George" Yang seems like one of those increasingly rare non-crazy Republicans, but he also seems like kind of a single-issue guy (his single issue being reform of the state employee pension system).
Oh, and I didn't even realize until now that I had an openly-gay assemblyman. Can I tell you how glad I am this isn't even remotely being raised as an issue by either side? That's how it should be.
(Santa Clara County Board of Education, Foothill-De Anza Community College District, Palo Alto Unified School District)
I've never been enrolled in any of these schools and don't have children enrolled in any of these schools so I feel like these races have nothing to do with me. I literally have zero stake in them so I think I'm going to abstain and leave the decision up to the people who will be affected by the choice.
Palo Alto City Council:
This is one of those "choose four" votes, and there are only 6 people running. So it's the same as choosing 2 not to vote for. I feel like I should vote for this one because I live here, even though I've never really thought of Palo Alto as home or considered what the local issues might be. (Palo Alto to me is generally just "the place I have to get out of when I want to go somewhere fun".)
I voted against the guy who wants to stop new train lines from going through Palo Alto and against the guy who wants to stop low-income housing from being built in Palo Alto. Snobs!
Measure 30: 1/4 cent sales tax hike plus increase on income over $250,000 for seven years, to prevent cuts in public schools.
The fact that this is on the ballot at all is a sign of California's dysfunctional state legislature -- it takes a 2/3 vote to change the budget, which isn't happening, so the only way to get stuff done is to do an end-run around the legislature and go straight to voters with budget questions like this. The governor is practically going door-to-door begging voters to approve this so he doesn't have to
Anyway, sounds good to me. If and when I am ever making $250,000 a year I'll be happy to pay more for schools.
Measure 31: Large package of random changes to state government
Includes a new "pay as you go" two-year budget cycle for state and local governments: anything they pass with new expenditures would also have to include means of paying for those expenditures. Also has 72-hour print rule so that law can't be changed at the last minute without leaving time for people to read it. Allows local governments to override state laws in many cases and allows the governor to unilaterally enact certain budget cuts if there's a budget crisis the legislature refuses to deal with.
OK wow. This proposition is some advanced wonkery. It was the thing I had the most trouble deciding on. So potentially important, and yet so boring and hard to understand! I listened to lots of arguments for and against but still didn't know where I stood on it.
If it was broken into smaller pieces there would be some parts of it I would vote for. But I finally decided to vote no just because I didn't feel like I understood the potential effects well enough. Giant changes to the functioning of state government that I can't understand? I'm gonna default to "no".
Measure 32: Prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political campaigning.
I don't like this one bit. It's an attempt at campaign finance reform, which I'm generally in favor of, but it's entirely one-sided: it reduces the ability of unions, but not of corporations, to influence campaigns. I feel like campaign finance reform needs to be a mutual disarmament situation. I would support this if it also applied to corporations but as is it seems nakedly partisan.
Measure 33: Allows auto insurance companies to set prices based on driver's history of continuous coverage
The fact that premiums go up if you have a gap in your coverage is one of the worst things about the health insurance system - why would we want to apply it to auto insurance to? No.
Measure 34: Ends the death penalty in California, replaces it with life imprisonment.
I support this one because I'm generally against the death penalty. Unlike some people I don't consider it morally unacceptable; my objection is more based on the practical matter that sometimes we get the wrong guy. Jury trials are not infallible. They make mistakes. Sometimes we find evidence later that exonerates a convict. With life imprisonment, mistakes are reversible; if we execute the guy, it's too late.
Also, the death penalty has often been applied in a racist way: people who kill whites are more likely to get it than people who kill blacks.
The one argument that might get me to support the death penalty in some cases is that life imprisonment is expensive for taxpayers. But even the price argument falls apart when you find out that it costs California an average of $300 million to execute one prisoner, due to the years-long legal wrangling and special facilities involved. We can actually save money -- an estimated $100 million a year, according to the legislative analyst quoted in the voter info guide -- by not executing people.
The argument submitted against Measure 34 for the voter guide is quite horrible. It's a naked appeal irrational feelings of vengeance. They list off horrible crimes while saying "come on, doesn't this person DESERVE to DIE?!?".
I don't really think public policy should be set by whether somebody deserves to die in some cosmic moral sense. We should look at the deterrence effect, the cost of various penalties, the value of removing a repeat offender from society, and the risk of punishing an innocent person, and try to do the thing that makes most sense for society.
I'm a quote Gandalf: "Many who live deserve death, just as many who die deserve life. Can you give it to them? No? Then be not so hasty to deal out death in judgement."
Measure 35: Increases criminal penalties for human trafficking
Sounds good at first, but it's written in a really weird way with a very vague definition of human trafficking and a bunch of sex offender stuff tacked on. Human trafficking is already illegal and I haven't heard a good argument for why the current punishments are insufficient -- or why the voters should go over the heads of the legislature to set a harsher penalty. No.
Measure 36: Amends "three strikes law" so that third crime = automatic life imprisonment only if the third crime is serious or violent.
Makes sense to me. The prisons are already overcrowded; I don't think somebody should get life just for taking drugs or shoplifting.
Currently in California a third conviction of any crime gets you automatic life imprisonment. This amendment to the three strikes law returns the power to judges and juries to set the punishment as fits the facts of the individual case. They can still consider the convict's previous criminal record when sentencing, but they're no longer forced into the maximum penalty in the case of misdemeanors.
Measure 37: Requires labeling of genetically modified foods
I see a lot of support for this measure on the lawn signs around my neighborhood. Personally I think the fear of GMOs is somewhat overblown. Isn't basically everything we eat genetically engineered? The wild ancestor of corn was a grass called teosinte with tiny inedible 1-inch ears. It's just that it was genetically engineered by Mesoamerican Indians 5000 years ago.
Sure I think people have the right to know what they're eating, but I'm not convinced a state constitutional amendment is required to give them that information. I already see a lot of food packaging that says things like "No GMO" or "No growth hormones". So if people would prefer to eat non-GMO foods, can't they already do that? Companies are already seeing "no GMO" as a competitive advantage and putting it on their label, without a law forcing them to do so, so I feel like the market is already doing its job sorting this out.
Measure 38: A different tax to fund schools, alternative to 30. If both pass than only the one with more votes goes into effect.
I like measure 30 better (The tax structure in 38 is more regressive) so I voted no on 38.
Measure 39: Multistate businesses pay income tax based on percentage of their sales in California; revenues go to clean energy projects.
Paying California income tax based on the percentage of your sales in California sure sounds fair to me! I was surprised to learn that this isn't already the case; currently companies can choose between tax based on percentage of sales or tax based on percentage of employees in California. Which gives them a perverse incentive to choose the latter and then have as few employees in California as possible.
The fact that the extra revenue from closing the loophole will go to clean energy projects is just a bonus.
Measure 40: Approves the citizens' redistricting commission's redrawing of state senate districts.
In 2008 we voted to have an independent commission of regular citizens redraw all the districts to reduce gerrymandering. I supported this idea. This interactive map shows what the commission came up with.
I read an article about how the Democrats found various sneaky ways to influence the supposedly independent commission and as a result will probably wind up with more safe seats than before, even though the districts are much more geographically reasonable-looking than they used to be.
This vote is to approve their work. If it fails we spend another million dollars on a do-over which will probably have very similar results. The group opposing approval has withdrawn their campaign so no argument against Measure 40 was submitted. Well, if nobody cares enough to argue against it, I'll take it.
County Measure A: 1/8 cent county-wide sales tax hike
No; unlike with proposition 30, the proponents of measure A don't make a good case for the budgetary need for this tax hike. And sales tax is a regressive tax.
County Measure B: Renews a parcel tax that would otherwise expire in order to pay for cleaning up and preserving the local streams and wetlands
Sounds good to me. Confusingly, the counterargument is that the proposed program doesn't do *enough* for the local environment, and they want to send it back and write a stricter one. I ended up voting yes anyway.
Palo Alto Measure C: Allows three marijuana dispensaries to operate in Palo Alto.
Hell yeah! maybe that will make this town less boring.
Seriously though, I support state and local efforts to resist the federal government's illogical marijuana prohibition policy.