The 12 California Propositions – heavy Yes or No decisions

A old painting of a couple that looks like their about to take a selfie, but are definitely not. Mock captions included.
The iron will melt you.

Californians this year can vote on measures that have the potential for generational change.

Over the past few months, I’ve dug into the issues all Californian voters get to decide this election, our 12 state ballot measures. I read all the opinion pieces from both sides, previous reporting by local newspapers, and much of the primary research cited. All this feeds into the voter guide ballot.fyi, a nonpartisan site I built in 2016 and have rebuilt every two years for no good reason. Taking a step back and viewing all of it at once, I can say this year’s ballot feels… heavy.

In 2016, 14 million Californians voted on the presidential race, but only 11.5 million voted on whether to ban plastic bags, and only 11.3 voted on whether to require porn stars to wear condoms. 1 in 5 people abstained from voting on those propositions. I suspect many of them didn’t feel informed enough to make a decision, especially when the ballot only has the official description. (Note: you can use your cell phone at the voting booth and you can take as long as you need)

Don’t be in that 20%. These issues are too big. You may know who you’re voting for President (if not, then this probably shouldn’t be the first article you’re reading), but you may not know exactly how you feel about affirmative action, for example, or how Uber and Lyft drivers should be classified.

No pressure though. That’s why I made ballot.fyi, but if you‘re looking for something even quicker, here it is.

— Ordered roughly by spiciness (not actually measurable)

🎟 Prop 16 reinstates the ability for affirmative action

Potential impact: 💥💥💥💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊🙊🙊🙊
Money spent: 💸💸💸

I can’t even. This has the potential to change a lot for so many. Currently, one cannot consider race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting in California. Prop 16 would repeal this ban from 1996, allowing affirmative action to be used in these public institutions like UC schools or government contracts. Note the word public. Affirmative action exists at private universities, private companies, and at the federal level, but not at the public state level. The issue mostly falls along party lines – Dems support Prop 16, Republicans denounce it. Read more.

🚕 Prop 22 classifies drivers of Uber, Lyft, Postmates, et al. as independent contractors

Potential impact: 💥💥💥💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊🙊🙊🙊🙊
Money spent: 💸💸💸💸💸

Specifically, it only applies to “app-based rideshare and delivery workers.” If you haven’t heard, the state passed a law that made the definition of an independent contractor very strict. Uber, Lyft, etc say it doesn’t apply to them, but the courts have struck down their appeals. This ballot measure, written and heavily funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart ($184+ million), would override that state law and classify their workers as independent contractors. In addition, Prop 22 would provide quasi-benefits that resemble some standard employment benefits, like a stipend for health insurance. The battle is intense.

🏭 Prop 15 changes how commercial property is taxed

Never sell

Potential impact: 💥💥💥💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊🙊🙊🙊
Money spent: 💸💸💸💸

This one is also big. To overly simplify the situation, in California, properties are taxed at 1% of the assessed value of that property. The assessed value, thanks to Prop 13, is set whenever a property is purchased, with an adjustment for inflation each year. The effect: it saves the homeowner a lot of money as the market value of their property increases, yes, but it has led to a drastic drop in tax revenue for local governments.

Prop 15 changes how often the value of commercial and industrial properties are assessed from “whenever it changes owners” to “every three years.” In other words, commercial properties will pay property taxes based on essentially their market value, as opposed to their purchase price (plus inflation). That’s the background — read the arguments.

👵 Prop 19 lets older homeowners move their property tax assessment more freely

Potential impact: 💥💥💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊🙊🙊🙊
Money spent: 💸💸💸💸

Right now, 55 year-old+ homeowners can move to a new house and pay the property taxes of their former house. But, many restrictions apply, like they have to move to a less expensive home (Why would you want to transfer your property tax assessment from a more expensive home? Because of 1978’s Prop 13). Prop 19 (this year) would loosen those restrictions. It also changes how property taxes are calculated for inherited homes. Ugh, just let me explain further.

🏘 Prop 21 rewrites the rules for rent control

Potential impact: 💥💥💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊🙊🙊
Money spent: 💸💸💸💸

Many California cities, including Los Angeles, SF, San Jose, and Oakland, have local rent control laws. These local laws are limited by a state law called Costa-Hawkins. Currently, rent control cannot apply to single-family homes or any building newer than 1995. Costa-Hawkins also effectively allows a landlord to reset the rent to any price between tenants/leases.

Prop 21 loosens Costa-Hawkins. More buildings could have rent control applied to them, and local governments would have more flexibility in what they can enact. Cities can control by how much they can raise the rent between tenants. Economists have researched rent control a lot. It has been shown to stabilize rents for some people, but it also has some unintended consequences. Read more.

🦝 Prop 20 toughens criminal laws

Potential impact: 💥💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊🙊🙊
Money spent: 💸💸 💸

Prop 20 has a lot of details, but generally a Yes vote would increase criminal punishment and make it harder for convicted felons to be considered for parole. A No vote will keep things as is. Advocates of Prop 20 say the current criminal justice reform has led to an increase in theft. Opponents of Prop 20 say that overall, crime has decreased and Prop 20 would be a step backwards in the state’s goal of reducing prison populations and being more rehabilitative than punitive. Read more.

🩸 Prop 23 changes how dialysis clinics operate

Potential impact: 💥💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊🙊
Money spent: 💸💸💸💸💸

Remember when we learned about dialysis in 2018? Good thing you remember everything, because a similar measure is back by the same authors. About 80,000 Californians have not-so-healthy kidneys, and require regular visits to dialysis clinics where machines filter their blood. Prop 23 would require dialysis clinics to have a doctor on site at all times + change other procedures. Supporters say we dialysis clinics are filthy and poorly run. Opponents say this is a stupid proxy battle between a labor union and a massive industry. Why, dialysis, why?!

⚖️ Prop 25 kills the cash bail system in CA

Potential impact: 💥💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊
Money spent: 💸💸💸

If you were arrested and charged, you would either have to wait in jail until your trial, or post bail to act as collateral that you’ll return on your court date. If you can’t afford to spend the time in jail (say, because you may lose your job or have a family) and can’t afford the bail amount (say, because you’re not rich af), you may turn to a bail bond company. The private company lends the amount to post your bail, but they keep 10% even if you show up to the trial.

Prop 25 eliminates cash bail from the criminal justice system, replacing it with a risk assessment system. Those who are a low risk to flight and harm to the public are free as they await their trial date. Some medium-risk and high-risk individuals will be kept in jail. Almost everybody but the bail bond industry urges a Yes vote. Read what the bail bond industry argues.

🔒 Prop 24 expands a recent data privacy law

Potential impact: 💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊🙊
Money spent: 💸💸

Fortune teller secrets

Two years ago, CA passed the CCPA: California Consumer Privacy Act which established consumer rights for data privacy, like the right to know what data a company has on you. The law went into effect this year, but large tech companies have already found a way to skirt the main part of the CCPA. Prop 24 aims to patch up those holes and create an enforcement agency. Surprisingly, some privacy advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, oppose Prop 24. Read more.

🗳 Prop 17 lets parolees vote

Potential impact: 💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊
Money spent: 💸

Currently, individuals who have served their sentence and are now on parole cannot vote. There are about 50,000 such people in California. Prop 27 allows them to vote. As straight forward as it gets.

🦄 Prop 18 lets almost-18yos to vote in primaries

Potential impact: 💥💥
Controversy/Contentiousness: 🙊
Money spent: 💸

The future is woke daughters.

Should 17 year-olds who will be 18 by the general election be able to vote in the primary election (and any special elections) earlier in the year? Currently, they can’t because they’re not 18 at the time of the primary election. This would impact ~100K or more teens each cycle. Supporters say this would increase civic participation in youngsters. Critics say 17 year-olds not mature enough. Should we let them vote?

🔬 Prop 14 funds the state’s stem cell agency

Potential impact: 💥
Controversy/Contentiousness
: 🙊
Money spent: 💸💸 💸

Yes, California has a stem cell agency. It gives out grants for stem cell research and was first funded/created by a ballot proposition in 2004 because back then, the federal government restricted funding for stem cell research. (This is mostly no longer the case.) California would borrow almost $8 billion to fund the agency for at least another decade. Many are against it. Even a current board member of this agency recommends voting no: read why.

Other great nonpartisan resources

Jimmy Chion is the creator of ballot.fyi, a site that summarizes the California state propositions (you know, like this article). Professionally, he is a creative technologist at The New York Times, a site that summarizes the current state of our humanity.

All images composed by Jimmy Chion. Original paintings by Adolph Tidemand (1814 — 1876)

If any aspect of a proposition doesn’t make sense to you, or you have a question, email fax@ballot.fyi to discuss.

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