California has a lot going for it as a state. If you look beyond the wildfires, earthquakes, the homeless problem, the Central Valley water issue, and its failing infrastructure, California has at least one great thing: automatic mail-in voting. Any California resident who is a registered voter only need venture to their mailbox, mail slot or post office box, to find a powerful vehicle for democracy—your ballot—just waiting to be opened, filled out and returned for counting. As processes go, this is an easy one. The hard part is knowing how to vote on ballot measures that may have hidden risks, partisan agendas and buried financial impacts that can affect us all.
Enter the California League of Women Voters. Since 1920, the League has been a self-proclaimed “…model of participation in the democratic process at local, regional, state and federal levels.” The League doesn’t practice partisan politics—in fact, the organization deliberately refrains from supporting individual candidates, or taking positions on ballot measures without being able to articulate their impact on the greater good. The welfare of all Americans is of greatest concern to the League, and it is through that lens that its members draft and release their recommendations on ballot measures and propositions each election year. 2020 is no different, and thankfully so; California’s ballot includes a raft of measures that are tough to decipher. With all credit to the League of Women Voters, and especially our local Santa Cruz chapter (headed by President Barbara Lewis), the following is a distillation of eight measures upon which the agency is taking a position.
PROP 15: SCHOOLS & COMMUNITIES FIRST - YES
This proposition will raise $12 billion every year for California’s schools, essential workers, and local governments by ensuring corporate properties worth more than $3 million pay their full share of property taxes. The League says, “This money is needed now more than ever and is critical to California’s recovery and reinvestment.” Given the lift to California’s economy, the League recommends a “yes” vote on this proposition.
PROP 16: OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL - YES
This proposition will reverse the 1996 affirmative action ban (Prop 209) and allow schools and public institutions to take race, ethnicity, color, national origin, and gender into consideration when admitting students to colleges, hiring employees for public jobs, and selecting contractors for public projects. This proposition will help fight systemic racism and gender discrimination while providing all Californians fair hiring practices. From the League: “Equal opportunity programs are a time-tested way to fight systemic racism and gender discrimination by leveling the playing field and giving everyone a chance at good public jobs and wages and quality public schools. Prop 16 provides all Californians a fair opportunity in education, employment, and contracting.” As California goes, so goes the country: the League stands in favor of this proposition.
PROP 17: RESTORE VOTING RIGHTS - YES
This proposition restores the voting rights of nearly 50,000 Californians who have completed their prison terms and are on parole. These citizens are working, paying taxes, and rebuilding their lives. Their votes will help foster a more representative democracy. A prison sentence shouldn’t be a life sentence; the League recommends a favorable vote on this proposition.
PROP 18: VOTING RIGHTS FOR 17-YEAR OLDS - YES
This proposition allows seventeen-year-olds who will be 18 by the next general election to vote in primary and special elections. This will help engage more young voters and help build a life-long habit. People who will be eligible to vote in a general election should be able to help choose the candidates who will be on that ballot. As the League states, “…many 17-year-olds are civically engaged and at the forefront of movements to improve the communities in which they live. We would all benefit from their voices at the ballot box.” Civic engagement should be welcomed! The League suggests an affirmative vote on this proposition.
PROP 19: PROPERTY TAX BREAKS - NO
The subject of tax breaks has been a tipping point for every election in this country. Raise taxes, lower taxes, tax the rich, give breaks to the middle class—there’s always a new spin on how to approach the topic. Proposition 19 throws a wrench in the issue by offering property tax breaks to the over-55 population who are already homeowners. If the proposition passes, those seniors could transfer their current tax basis to a new home—not just once, but three times. In addition, 19 would eliminate that tax break that comes with inheriting a home from one’s parents. Supporters say the financial benefit of the measure would provide a boost to statewide fire agencies, but it will inhibit “the state’s response to other natural disasters or public health crises.” Based on the overall negative impacts to California residents, the League does not support this proposition.
PROP 20: ROLLBACK ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS - NO
California has tried to be progressive when it comes to reforming the criminal justice system, but those efforts haven’t always resulted in positive outcomes. 2014’s Prop 47, for example, reduced nonviolent crimes like drug possession and petty theft to misdemeanors, which saved the California prison system money, by reducing incarcerations, but caused an uptick in property crimes and shoplifting due to the reduced sentence commiserate with a lower-class violation. Enter Prop 20, which now seeks to “get tough” on those misdemeanants by prescribing a longer sentence for minor crimes. In addition, the League is concerned that 20 “…allows the state to collect DNA from people convicted of misdemeanors like shoplifting and drug possession.” Given the balance that California is trying to strike with its criminal element, this heavy-handed approach results in the League declining support for Proposition 20.
PROP 24: CONSUMER DATA PRIVACY - NO
In 2018, the California Consumer Privacy Rights Act (CCPRA) was put into play, and new measures were put into place to protect our personal information from being accessed by businesses. The choice to opt-out of data collection and request deletion of stored information was a landmark move towards returning the power of privacy to the people of California. Proposition 24 seeks to annul provisions of the CCPRA by incorporating measures like a “pay for privacy” consideration that would allow consumers to enroll in “loyalty or rewards programs,” which could punish customers by charging them more, or providing them with poor service should they choose to opt out of those programs. In addition, California consumer protections are now applied to each business as a result of CCPRA, but Prop 24 would make it the responsibility of consumers to visit each website to opt out of information sharing, thereby removing the current blanket of security. As the League puts it, “…the initiative comes less than a year after the 2018 California Consumer Privacy Rights Act went into effect, before we have had an opportunity to see how the new law works or the legislature has had a chance to address any defects.” Given the protections that we currently enjoy thanks to the CCPRA, the League stands opposed to Prop 24.
PROP 25: END CASH MONEY BAIL - YES
The League’s main contention with California’s current cash money bail system is in its disproportionate application to People of Color. “Cash bail both criminalizes poverty and reflects the systemic racism that plagues our criminal legal process. California must move away from the money bail system to create a fairer and more equitable criminal legal system that balances public safety with the presumption of innocence.” For those who are unable to secure bail upon arrest, lengthy jail holds result in further financial impacts to suspects who have not yet been sentenced, many of whom may already be impoverished. Further, the League is concerned that “A NO vote…could enshrine cash bail and prevent future legislative action to curtail the commercial bail industry.” If the state’s intention is to reform our current system to make it more equitable for all, the League recommends a vote of yes on Prop 25.
The League of Women Voters remains neutral on Propositions 14 (Stem Cell Research), 21 (Local Governments & Rent Control), 22 (Ride Share and Delivery Drivers) and 23 (Kidney Dialysis Clinics). Follow this link to the league’s full statement on California proposals:
Next week, watch for a Q&A with the four candidates running for the open seats on the San Lorenzo Valley Water District: Lew Farris, Beth Thomas, Gail Mahood and Tina Marie To