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Polis Report

Voting for Dummies

By Richard Sine

The Easy Reader Voter Guide, released this week by the Santa Clara County Library Reading Program, does a good job of simplifying the upcoming state measures to a fifth-grade reading level. The Los Angeles Times, among other papers, will be distributing the pamphlet in full.

Proposition 211 hogs five dense pages of text in the regular pamphlet; in the Easy Reader, it has been reduced to ten easy lines. What's between those lines is frightening. Scarier still is that those who lack basic reading skills--about one-fifth of the population--may only read those ten lines before punching their ballots.

The initiative process was designed to allow the people to end-run a sluggish legislature beholden to special interests. But today the process is largely run by the same interests--business, labor, lawyers, seniors--that run the legislature. The initiatives are financed by costly campaigns and riddled with tricky provisions that confuse even seasoned policy wonks.

There's a reason why we don't all vote on every issue in the town square anymore: Our society is so complex that even the most literate citizen wouldn't have the time to understand all the issues before it.

Susan Clark, a guide author, helpfully suggests that more people will vote if reminded that they can ignore the props they don't understand. But if the Easy Reader Voter Guide is the cure for what ails the initiative process, maybe we should kill the patient.

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From the September 26-October 2, 1996 issue of Metro

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Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing, Inc.

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