EDITORIAL: Don’t ignore ballot propositions

YOU KNOW THOSE ANNOYING little paragraphs on the election ballot? The Yes or No initiatives, the ones that leave you wincing with an I-meant-to-vote-on-that! moment as you’re leaving the polling place? There are three of those things on everybody’s ballot in the November 4 election.

Proposition No. 1: Revising State’s Redistricting Procedure
This turkey is 154 words long. If you try to read and understand it at the polls on Election Day while others are waiting in line to mark their ballots, somebody’s going get angry enough to let the air out of your tires.
Supporters call this proposed amendment to the state constitution a way to reform the sneaky, back-room-dealing that has allowed a small group of powerful politicians to redraw election districts so the politicians and their followers get reelected. Opponents call it a sneaky, back-room-deal that allows powerful politicians to continue redrawing election districts to their advantage. Believe the opponents.
Some states have truly independent commissions that adjust the boundaries of election districts every 10 years as the Constitution of the United State requires. In those states neither party gets to determine how the lines are drawn, and the districts don’t end up looking like a boa constrictor learning to twerk.
Proposition 1 does propose creation of a special redistricting commission. But would it be independent? A judge who looked at that question didn’t think so. He ordered the state to remove the word “independent” from the ballot. Supporters, including the governor and the leaders of both houses of the legislature, say the new commission would function in a bipartisan manner. Probably so, but those bipartisan deals are responsible for gerrymandering all over the state, which leaves some lawmakers spending more time driving around their districts than serving the people who elected them.
Supporters plead that Proposition 1 is the best we can do to reform the system. But it turns out that as the current system becomes progressively more dysfunctional, judges step in and force the adoption of much fairer and more rational district lines, which are now easier to draw quickly with available software and population data.
Redistricting is the foundation of modern representative democracy. Proposition No. 1 does nothing to shore it up. It’s an illusion not a solution. Vote No.

Proposition No. 2: Permitting Electronic Distribution of State Legislative Bills
DUH! The state constitution currently does not allow the legislators to pass a bill until the bill is printed and on the desk of each lawmaker. This amendment redefines “printed” to mean available on the screens of digital devices. If it passes, we can no longer assume that lawmakers swiping at their mobile device screens are playing Angry Birds; they might actually be browsing proposed legislation. Best of all, it might cut down on the obscene waste of paper at the Capitol… but don’t count on that.
The best aspects of this amendment are that it shows common sense and forces the legislature into the same confusing digital world the rest of us cope with every day. Please vote Yes on Proposition No. 2.

Proposition No. 3: The Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014
Unlike the first two propositions, which are amendments to the state constitution, this one is a bond act that authorizes borrowing money for the specific purpose of upgrading school technology, loosely defined. The amount to be borrowed–up to $2 billion–will be divided among all schools. It can be used in any of four categories: classroom technology; high speed Internet access; pre-kindergarten classrooms; high tech security.
One of the arguments against this proposition is that any equipment purchased for classrooms will be obsolete before the bonds are paid off. That’s probably true. But what should schools do right now, as the jobs market requires ever more sophisticated technical skills and the education establishment continues its rapid transition to digital learning and teaching. We can’t pretend all this will just go away.
Two billion dollars will barely begin to address the needs of schools around the state. School boards know this and some have already begun to tap other sources of funding to meet their needs, an effort that will require contributions from both public and private sectors. Meanwhile this bond act is money we have to borrow to prepare students now to become informed and productive citizens in a world that functions very differently from the one we thought we knew. If you’re old enough to vote, this is a proposition worth voting for. Vote Yes on Proposition 3.

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