Ballot Initiative Transparency Act signed into law by Governor Brown

150 150 Lenny Mendonca

A little more sunlight was let into the ballot initiative process with SB 1234 now law (image: Wikimedia Commons)

This weekend California’s ballot initiative process became a little better for all of us. I was honored to be with Governor Brown when he signed SB 1253, the Ballot Initiative Transparency Act.

As co-chair of California Forward, I was involved in discussions with representatives from 60 other organizations over the past year as we worked to find common ground on how we can reform California’s treasured ballot initiative process. The bill is not only a victory for the many Californians who worked to pass it, but for California voters who deserve an improved initiative process.

We went into this process understanding that Californians are comfortable with our century-old statewide direct democracy tool that lets them weigh-in on specific and (mostly) important issues. We’ve been doing it in California since 1912! (Think of it this way–that was 17 U.S. Presidents ago.)

But over many years, the initiative process became more complex and confusing. Californians have noticed. They like the power they have in the initiative process–they want it to be more transparent and simpler to understand.

When our friends at Public Policy Institute of California polled Californians last year, they found strong support among Californians across the board –Democrats, Republicans and Independents — to reform the process.

  • 83 percent of voters agree that initiative wording is too complicated and confusing
  • 84 percent of voters favor increasing public disclosure of funding sources for signature gathering and initiative campaigns
  • 77 percent of voters support a review and revision process to avoid legal issues and drafting errors
  • 75 percent of likely voters are in favor of giving initiative sponsors more time if they are using volunteers rather than paid workers to gather signatures

SB 1253, which was authored by Senator Darrell Steinberg, starts us down the road of bringing greater simplicity, transparency and accountability to the initiative process.

In addition to California Forward, the broad coalition of sponsors includes the League of Women Voters of California, California Common Cause, California Chamber of Commerce, California NAACP, California Business Roundtable, CSEA, Think Long Committee for California, California Church IMPACT, AARP, Bay Area Council, and Los Angeles Business Council.

Specifically the new law will:

  • Give voters more useful information about initiatives so they can make informed decisions
  • Create ballot materials that are drafted in clear and straight-forward language
  • Allow authors to remove initiatives in order to reduce confusion on the ballot

The work of California Forward doesn’t stop with the bill signing. Getting more people to trust and participate in the political process is an ongoing challenge.

Like many of you, CA Fwd is concerned about the decreasing voter participation in the state. We believe it is absolutely critical that more people participate, especially our millennial population, those Californians in their 20s and early 30s. We need to hear their voices for its their futures that public policy influences.

Reaching them isn’t always easy. One reason is their independent spirit. More millennials are registering as “Decline to State”, not choosing one political party or the other. We also must ensure we are reaching them where they live – online. 

Getting information to them about the November election is a challenge we are tackling with our friends at MapLight and the League of Women Voters Education Fund. They have created Voter’s Edge, a website that offers non-partisan information on candidates and propositions. The website allows users to find out basic information about their statewide and local races by just inputting their zip code. On its launch this coming week, it will also incorporate the LWVC’s Smart Voter guide. 


Lenny Mendonca

All stories by: Lenny Mendonca