Proposition Pop Quiz 

Perception doesn't always equal reality with state ballot measures.

Depending on whom you ask, state ballot measures can be tools of populist reform, the means by which lobbyists with paid signature gatherers usurp the legislature, or an easy way for spineless politicians to avoid voting on dicey bills during an election cycle. But one thing is indisputable: The measures themselves are often so complex, confusing, and even downright deceptive that it's hard to know what you're voting on.

Thus, our prop pop quiz: We ambushed several commuters outside an East Bay BART station and had them read a ballot initiative and decipher what they thought it meant. No, not the quickie summaries or the exclamation-point-laden "pro" and "con" arguments -- we made them chew through the actual proposition texts printed conveniently and microscopically at the end of the voter information pamphlet. Behold the result.

Proposition 62 -- Primary Elections

Ben Bush, telemarketer, Oakland

It's an open primary initiative, so even though I'm a registered Democrat I could vote Republican in the primary. That seems to be the gist of it. You would still only get to vote for one candidate. You don't get to, like, vote for the Republican and the Democrat and the Green. It's hard to say whether or not it seems like a good idea. It seems like sort of a substitute for runoff voting. It's got ballot propaganda built into it where it's saying how great Prop. 62 is more than it's talking about anything about it.

Alexis Crist, office assistant, Piedmont

[It says] basically that you could vote in a primary like in the Republican primary even if you weren't registered as Republican or the Democratic primary if you weren't registered as Democrat. It was also trying to increase voter turnout. I don't really know how it would do that, but it kept on saying that it would.

The reality
Prop. 62 is a little more complicated than a "blanket primary" or "open primary" system, which lets voters select their favorite candidate regardless of party affiliation. But the confusion is understandable -- voters approved such a system in 1996 under Prop. 198, but it was tossed in 2000 after the state Supreme Court ruled blanket primaries unconstitutional.

As is, California primary voters must vote within their party in partisan races, and each party's winner advances to the general election. Under Prop. 62, voters could cast a ballot for any candidate in partisan primary races -- the presidential race is exempt -- and the two top vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to November. That means two Dems or two Republicans could face off in the general election. Third parties are unlikely to make it that far.

Proposition 60 -- Primary Elections

Luqman Rashada, filing clerk, Oakland

It just said to give everybody an equal chance. That's what I get from it.

Q: Do you mean to give the candidates an equal chance? Or the voters?

Well, wait, is this about the voters or the candidate? Hmmm. I'm confused.

Katherine Palau, English teacher, Oakland

My assumption is that this has to do with you don't have to be a Republican or Democratic candidate. These are partisan offices, which mean that you are either one party or another, right? But it's whoever gets the highest number of votes, and if they were of the Green Party then they should be on the ballot. Is that right? I'm confused.

Q: If a student handed this in, what would you say?

I would say, "Vague and convoluted; what are you talking about?"

Isaac Lipfert, telecom worker, Oakland (no picture available)

It's very simple, actually. It's saying any political party that participates in the primary election, which to my understanding is only the Democrats and the Republicans, has the right to participate in the general election. Oh! Now I'm looking at it and it says, "A political party that is participating in the primary election for a partisan office has the right to participate in the general election for that office." Why would there be a primary election for a partisan office and then a general election for a partisan office? Presumably there must have been some sort of reason for this to come up. So maybe I don't actually understand it.

The reality
Prop. 60 is essentially a trick question. It merely proposes, in complex terms, to keep the election system exactly as is. Opponents deride the measure as a "poison pill" built to counteract Prop. 62 if it passes; supporters say it will ensure that each party gets a chance to duke it out in November.

Proposition 64 -- Business Lawsuits

Svea Vezzone, art gallery exhibit director, Berkeley

It looks like it's just restricting fraudulent declarations on filing lawsuits in the business place. Or maybe that your lawyer can't lie for you.

Maria Gabriela Cajina, student, Oakland

It has to be a serious offense in a business or in some position in which you want to create a lawsuit and that it is necessary. Because it's bad for us to have so many lawsuits, it's costing us so much money for courts and paying everything. It's like, "Be aware and be serious in your lawsuit -- don't just give us something petty."

The reality
This proposition's intent becomes clearer once you realize who its backers are. Anyone can currently file a lawsuit alleging that a company violated state laws prohibiting fraudulent or unlawful business acts, even if he or she is not personally or financially harmed by those violations. Prop. 64 would allow only the state Attorney General or public prosecutors to file such lawsuits on behalf of the public, and they would have to show that their clients were personally injured or suffered a material loss. Lawsuits filed by private attorneys would have to meet the more-stringent requirements for class-action suits.

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