Are California Voters Being Bombarded by Initiatives?

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SACRAMENTO-

Ballot initiative overload.

"It's brain damage for the average voter," political consultant Carol Dahmen said. “U.S. Senate, Congress, legislature and 14 initiatives, most folks are just not gonna take the time to do their due diligence and look at all of that. It's a lot of work."

Dahmen is a political consultant in the Sacramento area who thinks the biggest issue that needs to be fixed when it comes to how California handles initiatives is something that was just instituted as a fix in 2012.

That's when all initiative votes were pushed to the day of the general election.

Consolidation sounds like it would create clarity and not confusion, but Dahmen says no.

She points out another unintended consequence.

"We've seen record low turnouts in both 2012 and 2014, and it's really affecting minority turn out. So you only have about 1.3 million Latinos who voted in the last election and that is only 15 percent of the total that are eligible," she said.

Even with its hang-ups, the initiative process is a popular one with California voters.

"They say they hate the initiative process, but they love the initiative process because it really allows them to engage with democracy," Christy Wilson said.

As the head of her own firm, Wilson would know. She describes herself as a general contractor for ballot initiative campaigns, assembling the experts,volunteers and research that can ensure a win.

Her business depends on the appetite voters have to engage.

If chatter counts as engagement, the Sodomite Suppression Act may take top billing this election cycle.

More than 140,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for the disbarment of its author because his act advocates for the outright murder of gays and lesbians.

On May 7, a judge granted Attorney General Kamala Harris an extension to have the initiative declared unconstitutional, so she doesn't have to certify a title and ballot summary for it.

That such an outlandish proposal advanced to this stage with a mere $200 filing fee is sparking a conversation about changing the initiative process.

"That $200 has been in place since 1943. If we had adjusted for the cost of living, it would be $3,400 dollars, which is reasonable," said Dahmen.

Dahmen - who started the petition to disbar the lawyer behind the controversial proposal - believes the increased fee would have stopped even someone with attorney's resources.

But could a higher price tag squeeze Joe Q. Public out of the process?

"You have to be prepared. You know (you need) anywhere between one to five million dollars to go out and get the signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot," she said.

In other words, Joe Q. Public would have to have some pretty big backers.

Christy Wilson on the other hand thinks the current filing fee is fine because the real meat of the initiative progress is in finding support out on the streets.

"So the counter balance to only charging $200 to file an initiative is the requirement that you get five percent of voters to agree that this should go to the ballot....370,000 signatures is no short order in a state as big as California," she said.

Under Darrell Steinberg's leadership as the California's Senate President Pro tem, the initiative process has already made big changes in the last few years.

Now there's a 30-day public comment period once a proposal is filed, giving backers a chance to revise their idea before getting their title and hunting for signatures - something not possible before, even for the smallest corrections.

And a new legislative fix is now in place.

Initiative authors can withdraw their proposal if lawmakers are able to resolve the matter at the capitol.

This is the first election cycle in which those changes will be implemented. How they'll work remains to be seen.

"We don't have a crisis of initiatives that go to the ballot and are overwhelmingly passed. In fact, initiatives are passed at a very low rate in the State of California, and so I don't think we have so many issues coming to the ballot that people are engaging in and voting for without fair understanding of those issues," Wilson said.