With Election Day less than a week off, millions of Californians are warily turning their attention to the ballot. While most have decided how they will vote in the presidential election, they still face a long list of other choices, including decisions on 17 ballot propositions—the most on a single ballot since 2000.
For the third cycle in a row, students at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College have decided to help out, with the Video Voter project, an online a series of two to three minute videos that offer an objective, accessible guide to each of these measures.
This project seeks to address a chronic problem with California’s system of direct democracy: How can voters make informed choices on ballot measures? Very few voters read the texts of the measures, which often are long and complex. For example, the text of Proposition 64, the marijuana legalization initiative, fills 32 pages of the Voter Information Guide and includes long technical legal provisions that few voters can understand, even if they try. Instead, voters look for information shortcuts such as the ballot title and summary and official ballot arguments, as well as other “cues” such as information about the identity of the proponents and opponents, spending on the measure, elite endorsements, and messages in television ads.
While the electorate as a whole has trouble making informed decisions on ballot measures, the system is even more daunting for younger voters who have less experience wading through a thick ballot pamphlet and are less likely to vote at all. A recent PPIC report shows that Millennials (ages 18-34) comprise nearly one-third of California’s adult population but likely will cast only about 18 percent of the ballots in this year’s election.
Students at the Rose Institute initially created the Video Voter project in 2012 on the belief that their peers would be more likely to learn about ballot measures if they could do so through an engaging online video format.
The Rose Institute has refined the project over the last two election cycles. This year, a team of nine students spent part of the summer researching the 17 measures and wrote detailed issue briefs that summarize each measure’s political backstory, major provisions, leading supporters and opponents, arguments for and against, and amounts and sources of funding on each side. The students then condensed the issue briefs into scripts and, finally, filmed the videos on the Claremont McKenna College campus. Once the videos were completed, they were posted on the Rose Institute website and the College’s YouTube page. The League of Women Voters of California also posted all of the videos on its Voters Edge site. Students also have posted links on Facebook and Twitter.
In an electoral environment filled with much noise and confusion, California voters need accessible, reliable, objective information on ballot measures. So the college students in Claremont are trying to show how it can be done.
The Video Voter project’s student research and production team was led by sophomore Alec Lopata, with the social media effort led by junior Ellen Lempres. The project was supervised by Rose Institute faculty in partnership with initiative expert Bob Stern.
Kenneth P. Miller is Associate Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College and Associate Director of the Rose Institute of State and Local Government. Ellen Lempres, a native of Berkeley, CA, is a junior at Claremont McKenna College and a student researcher at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government.