Jack Ohman

Editorial Notebook: Let’s give voters a little help

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to, you know, actually vote on things, we can use all the help we can get. That’s why, presumably, the California secretary of state’s office prints and mails the Official Voter Information Guide.

There are a lot of races out there in California. I know this because of the voter guide. But it was with some surprise that I noticed there were some missing features in my Official Voter Information Guide.

Like information about the candidates for, say, governor, or the Democrats running for lieutenant governor and attorney general, or the Republican running for controller.

I read the papers, know the candidates and can muddle through. But maybe some voters aren’t quite tuned in. So when they get their Official Voter Information Guide, they should expect, at minimum, to see why the people running for statewide office think they deserve to be elected.

A gentle inquiry to a very nice person at the secretary of state’s office produced an answer that since the aforementioned candidates didn’t agree to the Fair Political Practices Commission’s voluntary guidelines, as voted upon by California voters in 2000 when they approved Proposition 34, they wouldn’t be listed in the Voter Information Guide.

“How much does it cost to run the 250-word blurb in the guide?” I asked. The answer: $25 per word.

OK, that’s $6,250. The spokeswoman allowed as to how the state was not exactly making money on the deal, and had to mail 12 million copies to every single California residence where there is a registered voter.

I had a chat with another very cordial person at the FPPC, who noted that this was, in fact, what voters approved in 2000. Since Gov. Jerry Brown and Republican Neel Kashkari aren’t abiding by the spending limits, their statements would not appear.

I asked how much the voluntary FPPC spending guidelines were. About $13.6 million for the governor’s race, and $8.16 million for the attorney general’s race, for starters. Neither sum would get you very far in a state where it easily costs $3 million a week to run television ads.

As a relatively new California voter – this is my first California election – I would think the state should rethink that threshold rule. Perhaps the secretary of state and the FPPC could somehow figure out a way to run little 250-word blurbs in the guide for all candidates at a nominal fee.

It might not be much. But it would be something. The secretary of state is always talking about wanting to increase voter participation. Perhaps telling us a little something about who’s running and why would be a useful start.

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