Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Monday, 3 November 2008

It is fascinating being in America for the General Election. Not just because the results here will have profound implications for the economy and politics worldwide,but because there is always something to learn from the way America does politics. Voters in California don't just have the ballot for President. There are a host of other smaller elections and votes on measures - or "propositions" which were put on the ballot paper by the legislature or campaigners. I'm browsing the California General Election supplemental guide, which contains one additional measure which has qualified for the November ballot. Proposition 1A is for a safe, reliable high-speed passenger bond act. A YES vote for this measure means "the state could sell$9.95bn in general obligation bonds to plan and partially fund the construction of a high speedtrain system in California, and to make capital improvements to state and local rail services". The guide then goes on to provide "impartial analyses of the law and potential costs to the Taxpayer prepared by a legisative analyst", arguments in favour of and against the ballot measure prepared by proponents and opponents,text of the proposed law and other useful information."
I'm struck by the extent of information provided, and the clear focus not just on arguments but on costs, including a section on "fiscal effect". What strikes me about this system, which I have read about but not previously seen in action, is the respect it has for voters in providing such analysis, more along the lines of what you might produce for a company board, and the greater seriousness which which these votes are then taken.