That’s the minimum number of words Californians should be reading this fall. At least if they intend to vote on ballot initiatives.
The ten initiatives on the ballot, Props 30 to 39, run to a combined 47,465 words, at least by my Microsoft word count tool.
Does that sound long to you? Please. That’s the length of a short book.
It’s also the length of a number of great books. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Man, The Red Badge of Courage all came around 50,000.
On the other hand, that’s three times as long as the New Yorker’s recent, endless profile of Bruce Springsteen, and no one could possibly have made it through that. (I tried, and failed).
Now, I realize it’s possible that some California voters, perhaps even most California voters, don’t plan to read the full text of every initiative. They should be angry at themselves, just as they are angry at lawmakers who vote on legislation without reading it.
Everyone agrees that if you’re going to vote intelligently on something, you ought to read it first. The folks at California Forward Action Fund think it’s so important that lawmakers and the public read legislation before they vote upon it that they included a provision requiring a waiting period to permit reading and review of legislation in their very own 8,900-word ballot initiative. And in the spirit of their own proposal, I’m sure the California Forward people don’t want anyone voting for their own initiative if he or she hasn’t read it.
Conservatives and Republicans have been particularly outraged about the lack of review and deliberation on major legislation this year. So I’m sure all conservative voters will read every initiative. Heck, this fall’s initiatives, together, are less than one-tenth the length of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (more than 550,000 words), and every good conservative has read that multiple times, right?
Liberals should be reassured to know that the initiatives together are about as long as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. And ladies, before you complain about all the initiative reading, let me remind you that Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook is almost exactly as long as the November initiatives, and almost as treacly.
Even though it’s so easy to read all the measures, some people won’t be able to get through it all sadly. So for these sad sacks, here are a few strategies for reducing your load. Skip Prop 38, Molly Munger’s initiative, which is the worst offender at more than 11,000 words. And you can avoid Prop 31, the second longest measure. Both of these are well under 50 percent in the polls and have little chance of winning anyway.
Let’s say that you only will consider voting for initiatives that are short enough for you to read, and you can’t make it through anything that’s 4,000 words long. So that leaves you with only three initiatives to read: Prop 33, the auto insurance measure (656 words); Prop 32, paycheck protection (1302) and Prop 37, GMO labeling (2722).
Of course, there are some wise souls who skip voting on ballot initiatives all together – given the inflexibility of the system and the difficulty in determining what these things will do, even if you’ve read them. For these people, I recommend different reading: California Crackup. The book is 67,000 words, which is a bit longer than the initiatives.
But it’s a breeze compared to reading the entire ballot guide, which runs to 102,000 words.