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Those who vote absentee in Sonoma County will see their ballots arrive in the mail this week. If patterns reflect what happened in 2008, about 5,000 of those ballots — a little less than 4 percent — will be filled out and popped in the mail within the first week. About half will be sent within the first three weeks, according to numbers crunched by Ted Appel, one of our editors.

Still, nearly a quarter of them won't come in until the final three days of the election.

To help locals make their decisions — whenever they chose to make them — those of us on The Press Democrat Editorial Board have spent a good deal of time over the past month meeting with proponents and opponents of the 11 state propositions and 17 local measures on the ballot. As we indicated in a Sept. 2 editorial ("A change in PD policy in elections") our company, Halifax Media Group, has made the decision that we will no longer endorse candidates. But we continue to make recommendations on ballot measures and plan to issue our first list of endorsements on Wednesday.

But while we invest a lot of ink this time of year writing about what's on the ballot, the fact is this election has already been decided — not by what is inside the voter pamphlet but by what's inside voters.

I thought about this last Saturday night, as my wife Tamara and I sat at the Schools Plus "A Night under the Stars" fundraiser, listening to the Elsie Allen High School drum line, clad in stately green and white uniforms, shake the walls of Santa Rosa's Friedman Center.

For those who aren't familiar, this is an annual dinner benefit, similar to ones being held for schools around the state, to raise money for arts, music and sports programs in schools. Why? Because the money no longer exists in school budgets to pay for things as basic as uniforms, instruments and paint.

As the crowd cheered these stalwart young musicians, as well as the many students whose talents were showcased that night, I thought of perspectives — and how I wish more voters could share this one.

Watching a bunch of young people make the best of what life has handed them — what schools have handed them — and being proud of what they had to offer is a stirring sight. But it's clear many voters won't see things that way when they open their ballots and ballot statements this week for the first time.

Beaten down by five difficult economic years, income losses and housing troubles, many will come hard-wired to distrust and to say no. <NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO><CF101>I get it.

But in the background, I would suggest there's the sound of a different drum. And it's coming from kids who are getting caught in a massive custody battle over funding.

As an example, there are many within the community with whom I can talk at length about the pension crisis, about how the state and county got into this mess and how the warning signs were ignored. <NO1><NO>But where some of us part ways is when it comes to the next step. Some argue that a natural response is to oppose any tax increase, particularly Propositions 30 and 38 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

<NO1><NO>I can't see it. I can't see that the best way to protest decisions made 10 years ago about retirement benefits is to punish students of today, the very people who will likely be left to pay off this debt. Because, make no mistake, punishment will be the outcome if Propositions 30 and 38 fail.

Proposition 30 boosts the state sales tax by a quarter cent to 7.5 percent for four years and raises income taxes on the wealthiest Californians. If it fails, K-12 schools will see funding cut $5 billion this year. That's on top of the $20 billion schools have already lost over the past four years. <NO1><NO>The impacts would be devastating.

Proposition 38 would generate even more money for schools and offers what's probably a better way of financing it through increased income tax rates, with the wealthiest paying the most. But polls show it stands less of a chance of winning. Making matters worse, supporters of both propositions are tearing one another apart, threatening to undermine both measures. It's akin to arguing over the size and length of the fire hose — while the house burns. Neither proposition is perfect. But both are better than the alternative.

So, the primary question about this election is which voter emotion will prevail — rage over what happened in the past or anger over what is happening to our future?

I understand the temptation to vote no in hopes of teaching someone a lesson. But let's march to the sound of a different drum. It won't be lawmakers who will be scolded.

<i>Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson@pressdemocrat.com. Call him at (707) 521-5282.</i>