The Ballot Box: The Marin County Voting Guide

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What Marin event involves approximately 155,375 local residents, $30 billion of government spending, 55 tons of mail, 61 versions of basically the same document, and the lives and careers of 47 individuals, most of them Marin residents?

The answer, of course, is the November 6 statewide general election.

The 155,375 local residents are the registered voters in Marin County (pop. 261,221 in 2015). According to county records, only 41 percent of Marin’s registered voters cast ballots in the June 5 primary, but given a heightened interest in several races and issues, that’s expected to rise to 56 percent in November.

The $30 billion represents the approximate total the State of California would add to its current bonded indebtedness of $122 billion should all the funding propositions on the ballot be approved. Propositions are placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

A 95-page Official Voter Information Guide, analyzing the 11 propositions on the November ballot in detail, has been mailed to all registered voters. Here’s a summary of the issues:

Proposition 1 allows the state to borrow up to $3 billion to fund various housing assistance programs for low-income families, farmworkers and veterans. Including interest, this would total $5.9 billion and be paid off over 35 years.

Proposition 2 is the “No Place Like Home” proposition allowing the state to borrow $2 billion to provide permanent housing for mentally ill people who might otherwise be homeless.

If Proposition 3 passes, California can borrow nearly $9 billion for infrastructure projects involving drinking water, watershed projects, and groundwater storage. Including interest, this loan would take over $17 billion and 40 years to pay off.

Proposition 4 would approve borrowing of $1.5 billion to construct, expand and renovate children’s hospitals throughout California. With interest included, it would cost almost $3 billion.

Passing Proposition 5 allows senior and disabled homeowners to transfer the taxable assessments of their existing home to a new home anywhere in the state. Its fiscal impact is negligible.

If approved, Proposition 6 will eliminate many of California’s gasoline taxes and require the Legislature to get voter approval (not its own two-thirds vote) to create or increase a gas tax. That would eliminate over $5 billion annually that goes to highway maintenance and repair.

Relax, Proposition 7 doesn’t involve money. It would allow California’s Legislature to enact year-round daylight saving time, ending the practice of winding clocks back as winter approaches.

Again, breathe easy, Proposition 8 deals with kidney dialysis clinics and has no fiscal impact on most Californians.

Here’s another reason to breathe easy: voting yes on Proposition 9 would have divided California into three new states, but thankfully the state Supreme Court booted it off the ballot.

A “yes” on Proposition 10 will repeal an existing law (Costa-Hawkins) that sets limits on local rent control laws and would give local rent control laws greater power.

Propositions 11 and 12 involve, respectively, private ambulance personnel’s work breaks and the harsh confinement of certain farm animals. If passed, both will likely increase prices for private ambulance services and for farm products such as eggs, pork, and veal.

As for taxes, all Marinites can vote on Measure AA, which would extend a countywide half-cent sales tax, originally approved in 2004, through 2049. The measure would provide $27 million annually to relieve congestion on Highway 101 and repair potholes on local roads.

Apart from the detailed summaries in California’s Official Voter Information Guide, the County of Marin Voter Information Guide analyzes local issues at stake and has been mailed to every registered voter in Marin. For extra copies, call 800.345.8683 for the state guide, and 415.473.6456 for the Marin guide.

Fifty-five tons of mail? A copy of the aforementioned state Official Voter Information Guide, weighing 4.4 ounces, has been mailed from the office of Alex Padilla, California’s current secretary of state (he’s up for re-election), to each of Marin’s 155,375 registered voters. But this 95-page publication covers only issues that apply throughout the state, not individual counties. Marin’s candidates and issues are covered in the Voter Information Guide and Sample Ballot, which weighs 5.2 ounces. That 26-page brochure, also mailed to Marin’s 155,375 registered voters, explains what’s being decided candidate- and issue-wise at the county level, and its sample ballot is tailored geographically to each voter. Meanwhile, each Official Ballot, printed not on paper but on card stock and with a specially designed envelope, has an estimated weight of 1.6 ounces. Lynda Roberts, Marin County’s registrar of voters, says these are mailed only to the 70 percent of Marin voters who are expected to vote by mail. If the 56 percent turnout estimate holds true, that means out of the 108,762 ballots mailed, fewer than 61,000 will be returned. So do the math (hint: there’s 32,000 ounces in a ton): it looks like 55 tons of mail, relating to the November election, will pass through Marin’s 28 post offices.

And why are there 61 differing versions of basically the same document? Marin County has 19 different school districts, and six of them — San Rafael, Tamalpais Union, Bolinas–Stinson Beach, Kentfield, Novato Unified and Dixie — are electing school board members in November. As you would expect, Bolinas ballots won’t list candidates for the Dixie School District, and so forth. So the school district races alone call for six versions of the basic ballot. Then there are dozens of sanitation and fire districts — Novato Fire and Southern Marin Fire District among them — voting on board members or asking for parcel tax approval, each getting an individual mention on the locally geared ballot. It gets very granular: 233 registered voters living in North County send their children to schools operated by the Petaluma Joint Union High School District in Sonoma County, which calls for still another ballot variation. Hence, the 61 versions.

As for the 47 individuals, most of them Marin residents, whose lives and jobs will be altered by decisions voters will make in November? On a typical Marin ballot, that’s how many people will be accepted or rejected by the county’s 155,375 registered voters. Topping the ballot is Marin resident Gavin Newsom, who wants you to choose him, not his opponent, businessman John H. Cox, as California’s next governor. A defeat for Newsom would change, but not necessarily decimate, his seemingly upward political trajectory. Recall that in 1962, Edmund “Pat” Brown defeated one Richard M. Nixon for California’s governorship; six years later the nation inaugurated President Richard M. Nixon. One hard-fought race gathering much of Marin’s attention is for county district attorney: it pits Lori Frugoli, a Marin deputy district attorney, against adjunct law professor Anna Pletcher. Once the votes are counted, one contestant will have realized her heartfelt ambition; the other will be disappointed.

Dozens of other notable races involve the U.S. Senate; U.S. House of Representatives; the state Senate, Assembly and superintendent of schools; eight different judgeships; and myriad directorships of local school, fire and sanitation districts. The least those of us whose names are not on the ballot can do is consider the candidates and issues, make thoughtful decisions and vote. Especially with the ample information available, it’s a basic responsibility every voter living in a democracy can meet. Remember, you can’t complain about the results if you don’t participate.

This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline “Ballot Box”.