John Myers
November 8, 2015

Call it a dream for California political consultants, a nightmare for voters or an electoral extravaganza: The November 2016 ballot could feature a bigger crop of statewide propositions than at any time in the past decade.

“The voters pamphlet is going to look like the Encyclopaedia Brittanica,” said Steve Maviglio, a Democratic campaign strategist.

The list of measures is very much a work in progress. Most campaigns are still gathering voter signatures or waiting for their proposals to be vetted by state officials.

But political strategists have identified at least 15 — perhaps as many as 19 –measures that all have a shot at going before voters next fall.

The last time California’s ballot was that long was in November 2004, when there were 16 propositions. The March 2000 ballot had 20.
Ballot initiatives expected next November

A number of political forces help explain why so many are lined up now. For starters, there’s the 2011 law that moved everything but measures written by the Legislature to the general election ballot. As a result, June primary ballots are now almost barren of contentious campaigns.

There is also a lingering hangover from the state’s record-low voter turnout in 2014: a new and extremely low number of voter signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

“There’s no real obstacle this time,” said Beth Miller, a Republican campaign consultant.

State law sets the signature threshold at a percentage of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. That has lowered the bar to a level not seen since 1975, opening the door of direct democracy more widely for activists with smaller wallets.

“It’s made it cheaper to qualify an initiative,” said Gale Kaufman, a longtime Democratic campaign consultant who is leading the charge on initiatives to legalize marijuana and prolong a temporary tax increase approved by voters in 2012.

Which of the likely propositions might become a centerpiece campaign next year remains unclear; only five have qualified for the ballot. But perhaps a dozen more are close to securing a spot or have substantial funding behind their signature-gathering efforts.

The effort to legalize recreational use of marijuana, boosted recently by former Facebook and Napster executive Sean Parker, will undoubtedly make national headlines. So, too, might the effort spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to ban the possession and sale of large ammunition clips for guns and require background checks on those who buy ammunition.

Tax measures also typically have high profiles. Last week, an alliance of teachers, state and local employees, hospitals and doctors announced a new push to extend the 2012 tax hike. Healthcare groups are backing a proposal to raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 a pack.

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