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Take initiative: Voters will check boxes on gun safety, capital punishment, marijuana 

I don’t know how to put this, but November’s election is kind of a big deal.

And, believe it or not, it’s about much more than Hillary versus The Donald—especially here in California. Our voters will face a jam-packed ballot come Nov. 8, featuring the most initiatives (17 to be exact) we’ve seen since 2000. They’re pretty high profile, as well: California voters will decide on laws regarding recreational marijuana, the death penalty, ammunition restrictions, and education funding.

The general election could get especially interesting on the Central Coast, where the 24th District Congressional race between Democrat Salud Carbajal and Republican Justin Fareed is drawing some heated attention. According to political scientists, contentious races such as the one for the 24th Congressional District and hot-button issues such as those hitting the ballot this November, tend to boost voter turnout.

Plus, presidential elections bring more voters to the polls—as many as 20 to 30 percent more, according to Cal Poly Political Science Associate Professor Michael Latner.

But he added that people should expect a “higher level of roll-off than typical”—meaning many people will cast their votes on the big elections and high-profile initiatives at the top of the ballot, but not on the lesser-known proposals lower down.

“One of the problems with the initiative process is it isn’t really reasonable to ask voters to be informed on 17 major policy issues,” Latner said. “It’s not unreasonable to see less-informed voters not cast votes for some of the more technical, abstract ballot initiatives.”

Jessica Scarffe, associate professor of Political Science at Allan Hancock College, told New Times that voters tend to be most informed on measures that either directly affect them or get lots of media attention.

“They become a self-fulfilling prophecy in some respects,” Scarffe said. “They’re already controversial topics, but the media will talk far more about them than about some esoteric proposal, like school bonds.”

She added that initiatives targeting liberal audiences—such as recreational marijuana use and ammunition restrictions—tend to pop up during presidential election years, when less-frequent voters who tend to lean liberal show up.

“In non-presidential cycles, when voter turnout is low, that tends to advantage conservative causes in the Republican Party,” Scarffe said. “And when the voter turnout is higher and you’re getting the people out to vote who aren’t as frequent of voters, that tends to benefit liberal causes and the Democratic Party.”

Here’s a run-down of the 17 initiatives confirmed so far, according to ballotpedia.org:

Legislator suspension: Proposition 50 would require a two-thirds majority vote to suspend a legislator as well as define how rights, privileges, and powers would be removed from said suspended legislator.

Education bonds: Proposition 51 would authorize $9 billion in bonds for education and schools.

Campaign projects: Proposition 53 would require voter approval for election and campaign projects funded by more than $2 billion in revenue bonds.

Passing bills: Proposition 54 would hold the Legislature accountable by prohibiting it from passing a bill until the bill has been in print and published online for 72 hours before the vote.

Income tax: Proposition 55 would extend temporary personal income tax increases on yearly incomes of more than $250,000.

Tobacco tax: Proposition 56 would up the tax on cigarettes to $2 per pack.

Parole: Proposition 57 would increase the chances for parole of felons convicted of non-violent crimes and allow them to earn good behavior credits.

Bilingual education: Proposition 58 would repeal 1998’s Proposition 227, allowing bilingual education in public schools.

Corporation rights: Proposition 59 pertains to legislators’ aim to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, thus clarifying that corporations don’t have the same constitutional rights as human beings when it comes to campaign finance.

Condoms in porn: Proposition 60 would require actors performing sexual intercourse in pornographic films to use condoms.

Prescription drug prices: Proposition 61 would prohibit state agencies from paying more than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for prescription drugs.

Death penalty: Proposition 62 would get rid of the death penalty in California.

Ammunition restrictions: Proposition 63 would prohibit possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines (more than 10 rounds) and require people purchasing ammunition to first pass a background check and receive Department of Justice authorization.

Recreational marijuana: Proposition 64 would legalize recreational marijuana use under state law and enact sales and cultivation taxes.

Shopping bags: Proposition 65 would redirect money earned from selling grocery and retail bags to a Wildlife Conservation Board fund.

Death penalty, again: Proposition 66 would speed up the death penalty in California, putting the state Supreme Court in charge of expedited appeals. (If propositions 62 and 66 both pass, the one with the most votes would be enacted.)

Plastic bags: Proposition 67 would prohibit single-use plastic bags from businesses altogether.  

Staff Writer Brenna Swanston from New Times’ sister paper can be reached at bswanston@santamariasun.com.

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