Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was once charged with spreading democracy across the Middle East, doing diplomatic battle with dictators and smoothing things over when countries got testy with each other.
So what's got this multi-lingual, concert pianist Stanford professor confused? Why, it's the California ballot.
In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Rice admits, "Every time I vote in California, and the whole referendum process, I really have my reservations about it."
She goes on to add, "I think I'm an informed voter, and I sometimes have to read the measures six or seven times, and then sometimes I still don't understand them."
Yes, we would also have to say that the woman who was once one of the U.S. President's closest advisors is probably an informed voter. And if California's infamously complex ballot system has Professor Rice stumped, then it's probably stumping regular Californians too.
California ballots are made up of two types of measures: things that are put forth by the state legislature, and any initiatives or referenda that have gathered a certain number of signatures from regular California voters. If a voter wanted to propose an initiative statute, 504,760 signatures are required to get it on a statewide ballot. If a voter wanted to pass a Constitutional amendment, only 807,615 signatures are required. And in a state with an estimated 37 million residents (as of 2010), those numbers are a pittance.
Depending on your political persuasion, you may have cheered for Proposition 13 (a permanent change to how property taxes are calculated), Proposition 8 (a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage), or Proposition 215 (legalizing medical marijuana), but each has drastically changed California in ways voters may not have predicted or understood -- all with a simple majority vote.
To make matters worse, according to the Center for Governmental studies (PDF), 33% of all ballot initiatives between 2000 and 2006 clocked in at over 5,000 words, which leaves the average voter (who won't read the entire measure) at a loss for how to decide on an issue. This leaves the ballot initiative system rife with exploitation from big business and other powerful interests to toy with California legislation. Case in point: Amazon's battle against California sales tax.
But it's not like Rice is necessarily a voice of reason on this issue. She's a member of the Think Long Committee for California, which is championing a ballot initiative to (somehow) raise state tax revenue while reducing personal and corporate tax rates.
As California chairman of the Democratic party John Burton put it in a recent Daily Show spot, our ballot initiative system is "totally f**ked up."