Pubdate: Sun, 01 Sep 2002
Source: Arizona Republic (AZ)
Copyright: 2002 The Arizona Republic
Author: Margie Mason, Associated Press


SAN FRANCISCO - A lengthy homework assignment will soon land with a thud at 
the door of each of the city's 440,000 registered voters: an explanatory 
guide to November's ballot measures running more than 300 pages and costing 
as much as $2.8 million.

Some of the 19 initiatives are so complex or sensitive that politicians 
have ducked them for years.

Citizens and interest groups lined up outside the Elections Department on 
Tuesday to meet a noon deadline, paying a $200 fee and $2 per word to have 
their opinions included.

The resulting "pamphlet" will be too thick to fit in most mail slots.

"It's ridiculous," said Teresa Mathews, 39, a stay-at-home mom watching her 
son in a playground last week.

"I wouldn't read it. It's going to end up in the garbage and on the 
streets," she said. "I've got a toddler at home, so I wouldn't have time to 
read it anyway, even if I were interested."

But Linda Johnson, who has missed just one election in 11 years, says the 
guides are "an example of how robust the democratic process is in San 
Francisco and how many people want to get their 2 cents in."

Oregon produced a similarly hefty guide last year as part of its vote- 
by-mail system - at two volumes and more than 400 total pages, it cost $2 
million to mail, partially offset by about $400,000 in fees.

San Franciscans also will get a 112-page California voter guide in the mail 
with statements for and against eight other measures and candidates for 
governor and other officers. About 40,000 voters also requested the city 
guide in Chinese or Spanish.

"It's one of the few places they can go to get reliable information about 
what both sides say about an issue," said David Binder, a pollster in San 
Francisco for nearly 20 years. "If they took it away, there would be a 
march on City Hall. It's one of the essential city services. It's up there 
with water and street cleaning."

The League of Women Voters has never done a survey to determine the 
effectiveness of its arguments, but voters do read them, if the complaints 
the league gets from various candidates are any indication, said Sarah 
Diefendorf, co-president of the city's chapter.

Mailing expenses alone could soar from about $600,000 to $1.9 million if 
the guide weighs more than 20 ounces and needs to be mailed at the 
$3.95-each catalog rate.

"It's such a hit on the budget. It's not just a matter of getting the 
arguments published and mailing them, there's also a lot of staff time," 
acting Elections Director John Arntz said.

Still, the cost of the guide is "chicken feed" in a city where people have 
such a passion for grass-roots politics, said Richard DeLeon, a political 
science professor at San Francisco State University.

"San Francisco voters are quite sophisticated," he said. "They're very 
demanding and politically smart and very actively engaged in the city's 
political life."

San Franciscans also have a tradition of weighing in on broader issues - 
such the idea of growing and distributing medical marijuana, which would 
invite a direct confrontation between the city and federal authorities.

"It's the idea of local autonomy leading the way, and one way to do that is 
to put a measure on the ballot that raises hackles and causes people to 
roll their eyes and say, 'Only in San Francisco,' " DeLeon said.

"A lot of people have given up hope that their voice means a damn thing. 
But here the sparks are flying and it's a little out of control and kind of 
all over the place and it's messy. But there's something admirable and 
inspirational about it."
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