How We Look at the Ballot

How We Look at the Ballot

As we work on preparing our voter guide, we want to provide more background on our approach to the issues, and how we will be making our decisions.  Though our specific recommendations will be geared towards voters in California, the overall approach is useful to any voter faced with ballot initiatives.  And in an effort to refute the myth of objectivity, we have identified the priorities that inform our decision-making process.

California is one of 26 states (and D.C.) that allow statewide voter initiatives or referenda.  When considering these propositions, it’s important to remember that they are different than the elective offices on the ballot.  Races for office tend to be “either-or” choices between two or more candidates, one of whom will eventually end up in office.  Voter initiatives, or “propositions” as they are called in California, are yes-or-no choices–they ask us to either make a change, or to keep things the same.  Propositions are often portrayed as a conflict between two sides of certain policy issue, but that is rarely how they actually work.  Instead, propositions ask whether we should institute a very specific proposed change (typically a new law or regulation), or maintain the status quo.

With this in mind, when evaluating each of the propositions, we plan to consider (and we recommend all voters consider for themselves) the following questions:

  1. What problem is the proposition trying to solve?  Every proposition is, in theory, attempting to address a problem.  If there wasn’t a problem, why would there be no proposition?  It’s important to understand how the initiative sponsors view the problem, and determine whether we agree with their framing of the issue.

  2. How does the proposition address the problem?  The proposition will likely enact some legal or regulatory change, or establish a source of funding.  We want to consider how those actions will impact the problem identified in the first question.

  3. Is the proposition an effective solution to the problem?  Related to the previous question, we need to determine whether the proposed solution is the best way to deal with the problem, or if it just creates new problems of its own.

  4. Is the proposition a better alternative than maintaining the status quo?  This is the most important part of deciding whether to support a proposition or not.  Sometimes an initiative with the most noble intentions is not a good solution to a problem.

If these questions seem obvious on their surface, the point is to make clear that a position on a specific proposition does not equate to a position on a policy debate.  Propositions may address real and important problems, but propose ineffective or counterproductive solutions.  Propositions may also portray themselves as supporting one side of a policy debate, while actually benefiting the opposite side.  And this year’s ballot has at least one example of both of those situations (like this or this).

To help us wade through the myriad issues facing voters in California this November, and to broaden our scope beyond the built environment focus of people[PLACES]spaces, we are teaming up with our partner organization, Urban Research Office, a social and environmental justice-focused collaborative, co-founded by myself and my husband, Guillermo Douglass-Jaimes.  This collaboration will provide a wider view on the issues, and a consideration of how the various measures affect our communities, and the environment.

Using the framework outlined above, we will make our recommendations based on what we believe will make California (and Los Angeles) a better place to live for all its residents, that will create a more equitable society and economy, and will provide a cleaner and safer environment.

Header image by flickr user Kodak Views via Creative Commons, CC BY