2016 November General Election Voting Guide

I had previously only posted this on Facebook, but since I’m planning to do this for every election going forward I moved it here.

Don’t just vote NO on every ballot initiative. Here’s a justification for my YES votes that fit within a general voting strategy. Feel free to share and/or print this out for election day.

My voting strategy is:

(1) prefer to vote for new taxes, preferably without a set-aside,
(2) vote for groups that don’t have a strong lobby (youth, disabled, homeless, low-income people),
(3) vote for social policy change in ways that agree with my values,
(4) vote for things that price externalities.

And I try to vote no for everything that doesn’t meet those criteria and/or increases needless or unhelpful bureaucracy (5), or infringes upon rights (6).

California has so many ballot initiatives because we need a 2/3 majority in the legislature to institute any new taxes and for the past 10 or 15 years the legislature has not been able to work together successfully. This, sadly, fits with the national trend of greater partisanship in government. In order to get a new tax the legislature actually has to put the measure to a state-wide vote. And, at least in San Francisco, a number of the ballot measures are a response to the outsize control vocal minorities have. (By that I mean the legislature is scared of how an interest group can negatively affect their career, so they prefer controversial things to go to a ballot)

For state measures, my votes fit within that framework: YES

52: Continues a sort-of-tax of private hospital visits that funds medi-cal, which helps poor and disabled people (~1, 2)

55: Continues a tax on people making more than $250k to fund education (1, 2)

56: Increase smoking tax (1, 4)

57: Give people parole faster for non-violent crimes (2, 3)

58: Repeal the ban on bilingual education. Effectively repeals Prop 227 from 1998. (2, 3)

62: Repeal death penalty (2, 3)

64: Legalize recreational marijuana (2, 3)

67: Uphold the plastic bag ban as it stands (4)


51: Issue a new bond with an overly specific set-aside with not a clear enough benefit (1)

53: Require statewide voter approval for revenue bonds to fund infrastructure (5)

54: Require posting all bills online with a mandatory three-day delay between posting and voting (5 — even a typo correction requires a new three day waiting period, opening up a wonderful new avenue for stonewalling legislation)

59: Non-binding overturn of Citizen’s United (6, and it’s a stupid waste of voters’ time and money. It changes nothing.)

60: Require condoms in porn (5)

61: Pin drug prices to the VA (5)

63: Restrict the sale of high-capacity ammunition (6)

65: Redirect the plastic bag fee (5, this one is so weird)

66: Limit the number of times a person can petition their death sentence (3, 6)

For SF measures, with minor exceptions, my votes also fit: YES:

A: Authorize the school board to issue $750MM in bonds. I don’t think this should be a ballot measure, but it does give some autonomy to the school system and it helps young people, so (2) wins out

B: Increase the parcel tax to fund City College (1, 2)

C: Authorize the city to use money left over in a set-aside to other things (namely to renovate low-income housing) (2, 5)

E: Reverse a 2012 ballot measure that transferred responsibility of street trees and sidewalks to property owners facing them. The only way to undo a proposition is to put it to another vote, so this has to be a vote. Voting no keeps a failing system running. (5)

F: Youth voting in local elections (2)

G: Police oversight (2, 3)

J & K: Sales tax with a set-aside for homeless & transit. Mixed bag with the set-aside for a group I want to help. But I think overall worth it because the homeless don’t have good ways of influencing policy. (1, 2)

N: Non-citizen voting for school board elections. Enfranchising parents of kids in our schools is such an easy choice. (2)

O: Office development in candlestick park. This one requires some background knowledge about construction policy in the city. Basically, in 1986 the NIMBYs got a measure passed that established an annual limit of 950,000 square feet of office space within city boundaries. The redevelopment program of candlestick park will use 5 million square feet, effectively preventing any building in the rest of San Francisco for 5 years. Voting YES exempts this project from the yearly square footage cap. This redevelopment program has been in the works for like three decades and shouldn’t be slowed now that it’s finally moving. This measure tries to undo some of the shitty policy voters set in 1986, so it satisfies (5)

S: Allocate the hotel tax to subsidize the arts and fund homeless programs (2, 3)

W: Increase the real estate transfer tax on buildings over $5MM. This is a kind-of repeal of Prop 13 which limited the percent per year that a property’s assessed tax value could rise. Prop 13 also applied to large commercial buildings, so your house and the Transamerica Pyramid are subject to the same limits. This helps undo that stupid stupid damage.

RR: FUND THE GOD DAMN BART. It’s been underfunded for at least 15 years and we’re feeling the pain. (1, 3)


D: Restrictions on who can temporarily hold a vacancy appointment and how long, and what they can do after. (5)

H: Create a public advocate position. Yeah, NYC has one but NYC has 8 million people, and SF has 800,000. (5)

I: Set-aside funding for seniors and the disabled. Seniors are a reliable voting block and the city already funds this so it doesn’t need to be locked in (1)

L: Change how the city nominates MTA appointments. This is likely to politicize the MTA (5)

M: Create a housing & development commission. But there’s ALREADY a housing commission, so this adds another layer of bureaucracy (5)

P: Require three bids, minimum, for affordable housing projects. (5) — and likely to make our housing worse

Q: Prohibit tents on sidewalks (2)

R: mandates minimum staffing for a neighborhood crime unit. Weak no because it’s probably not bad per se, but the voters should not be making staffing decisions for the police and locking it in forever with a vote. (5)

T: overly restrictive lobbying restrictions. The limit on expenses is really low and hurts lobbyists for good causes. (5)

U: Subsidized housing for people making less than $82,000. OMG JUST BUILD MORE HOUSING ALREADY. This doesn’t fit my criteria but it’s so stupid. The city cannot subsidize it’s way out of a supply problem.

X: requires new construction to maintain industrial space on the ground floor if the existing site is industrial. So you’ll have heavy industry below apartments instead of retail. (5)


V: Soda tax. It does fit (4), but I’m not sure if consumers will see the price of just soda increase, and I think a sin tax ought to only affect the sin being taxed. I’d prefer a point-of-sale line-item special tax that says “You bought 20oz of soda so you’re paying an additional 20 cent tax”

So there are real reasons to vote yes for something, even though direct democracy is awful, and even though voters are terrible at predicting long-term negative effects. We need to elect people who promise to work together in the legislature so they can start passing new taxes for us. We need to start voting away our right to vote on every god damn thing. And we need to start making it harder to put initiatives on the ballot. But voting no on everything is not a good strategy for the situation in which we find ourselves.

As for people…

President: Hillary Clinton

US Senate: Kamala Harris

US Rep: Nancy Pelosi, probably. But Preston Picus looks interesting but has vague policy statements.

State Senate: Scott Wiener

State Assembly District 17: David Chiu


District 1: Marjan Philhour

District 6: London Breed

District 9: Joshua Arce

BART Directors:

District 7: Lateefah Simon

District 9: Gwyneth Borden

SF Superior Court Judge: Paul Henderson or Victor Hwang are probably both good choices. They both are very qualified for the job.

Board of Education (pick 4-of-9): I’m inclined to vote for Ian Kalin and Jill Wynns, and I’ll probably vote for Rachel Norton and Matt Haney, despite thinking they’re only OK.

City College Board (pick 4-of-5): Rafael Mandelman, Amy Bacharach, Shanell Williams, Alex Randolph

Written on May 13, 2018 by Steven Buss.

Originally published on Medium