IGS goes Web 2.0 with information resource on state propositions

May 26, 2010
By: by Kathleen Maclay

The University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) is taking a decidedly Web 2.0 tack to help voters sort through the facts, fiction and political posturing around five propositions on the state's June 8 primary election ballot.

IGS has collaborated to produce California Choices, a comprehensive resource guide with a unique and colorful multimedia presence and an online tool that, along with a wealth of related data, lets voters electronically share their personal positions on ballot propositions.

An online resource guide for voting.
IGS has collaborated to produce California Choices, a resource guide providing a wealth of data and an online tool allowing voters to share their positions on ballot items.

Institute officials said a couple of other nonpartisan organizations have assembled Web sites with rundowns of the pros and cons of the propositions, but none are as comprehensive and deep as the site prepared by IGS.

Voters in the Golden State will go to the polls in two weeks to vote on candidates for governor, attorney general and insurance commissioners, as well as on five ballot measures. Ballot topics include public financing for elections, switching to open primaries, reining in local governments in the electricity business, changes in setting insurance premiums, and extending property tax breaks for earthquake retrofits.

The guide, which can be translated into Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese, with the click of a mouse, is online.

The Web site is part of a larger site devoted to informed discussion about governmental reform in California and hosted by the clearinghouse, in partnership with the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State University and Next 10, an independent, non-profit organization established to educate and engage Californians on critical state reform.

"Public education and outreach is a crucial part of the IGS mission," said institute director Jack Citrin, also a UC Berkeley professor of political science. "This new Web site is an innovative and dynamic way for us to connect with California voters, and provide an accurate and nonpartisan resource about an election critical to the future of the state."

IGS library staff provided content for the section of the California Choices site that is dedicated to the propositions. The section gives visitors a look at the summary and analysis of each measure, the arguments for and against each, as well as the text of the propositions and nonpartisan analyses. There also is a brief narrative about each proposition’s evolution and a list of major organizations supporting, opposing or taking a neutral stand on each measure.

Nick Robinson, IGS librarian and lead on the institute’s involvement with the California Choices project, said the site includes an innovative news and opinion "window" for each proposition. IGS collects RSS feeds from political blogs and newspapers throughout California and posts up-to-date news stories and commentaries about each proposition in the windows.

For example, news for Monday (May 24) was highlighted by a Los Angeles Times report that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has spent $44 million advancing Proposition 16, and a Sacramento Bee report that minor political parties fear extinction if Proposition 14 passes.

Endorsement tabs also provide visitors to the site with a rundown of the positions taken on each proposition by more than 30 labor unions, newspapers, political parties and nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, League of California Cities and American Association of Retired People. Links are included for each source, so Web visitors can search for additional explanation for the endorsements.

Throughout the propositions' Web site are embedded links to additional resources, such as the committees formed to support or oppose each proposition and a list of their expenditures, as reported to the California Secretary of State’s Office.

For voters curious about how a proposition is faring so far, the site also reports the results of recent polling. For example, Proposition 14 for open primaries boasts backing by 60 percent of voters most recently polled.

Clicking on the "multimedia" tab, voters can find videos — and soon, podcasts — of debates, panel discussions and other presentations about the propositions. "The era of video campaigning through the Web has really arrived," Robinson said.

Tracking by IGS of its resource guides back to 2002 shows that its Web traffic typically skyrockets the day before the election, and again on Election Day. But with the increasing popularity of absentee voting, Robinson said it is more important than ever to get information about election issues out to voters as soon as possible.

Archives of IGS analyses of California’s general, primary and special election issues dating back to 2002 are online.

Note: The propositions on the June 8 ballot include:

  • Proposition 13 offers property tax breaks for seismic retrofits to unreinforced masonry buildings.
  • Proposition 14 would mandate that only the top two vote-getting candidates in a primary election would move on to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation.
  • Proposition 15 would enable candidates for secretary of state in 2014 and 2018 elections to receive public funds for campaign costs.
  • Proposition 16 would require local governments to get two-thirds approval from voters before starting up or expanding electrical service.
  • Proposition 17 would allow insurance companies to base premiums on the length of time a customer has maintained bodily injury liability coverage.