Sample ballots for the Nov. 8 election should begin arriving this week. But be forewarned. You’re going to need a bigger mailbox.
The voter pamphlet for my neighborhood in Santa Rosa — I looked it up on the web — is 51 pages. The state Voter Information Guide is another 224 pages. Combined, that’s longer than each of the first two Harry Potter books. The ballot itself will have nine sides, increasing the risk that voters may skip over an entire side by mistake. Either way, precinct workers may need to have chairs available at the voting booths this year. And maybe a little coffee.
Those of us on The Press Democrat Editorial Board have been interviewing candidates and supporters and opponents of ballot measures and have been rolling out our endorsements for more than a month. (They’re all available on pressdemocrat.com.) We expect to post our first recommendations list about the time the mail-in ballots arrive around Oct. 10.
Some of the issues to be decided should never have been put on the ballot in the first place. (Think porn films and condoms, or, better yet, don’t.) But the vast majority involve important choices. Two in particular should stand out. The first comes at the beginning — the presidential race. The other comes at the end, Measure Y, which has the biggest risk of being forgotten or lost amid the forthcoming voter fatigue.
Measure Y is a one-eighth cent sales tax to support Sonoma County libraries for 10 years. When a similar measure was put on the ballot two years ago, 37,000 more county residents supported it than opposed it. But because a tax measure needs a two-thirds vote to pass, it lost by just a few percentage points.
They say you can’t tell a book by its cover. But you can with this one. The cover on this one is old and tattered and needs help. Here are five reasons why voters should support Measure Y:
1. Funding for Sonoma County libraries is woefully inadequate. Contrary to popular belief, libraries are not funded by the county so don’t try blaming this shortfall on the Board of Supervisors. They are part of an independent joint powers authority funded solely through a property tax of 22.5 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, a relatively low rate. That leaves the county with revenue of about $33 for every resident in the county. This compares to $85 per capita in Napa County, $106 in Marin County and $130 in San Francisco. If Measure Y is approved, it would raise the county’s level to $56 per capita. “We would still be lagging behind our peers, but the gap wouldn’t be as significant,” said Sonoma County Library Director Brett Lear.
2. Library services themselves are woefully inadequate. Services and hours had to be drastically cut during the recession, and they have not been restored. All libraries remain closed on Mondays, and all but the downtown Santa Rosa branch are closed on Sundays. Overall, hours at the 17 branches — including the specialty ones like the History and Genealogy Library downtown — remain down by 25 percent while book-buying has been cut short. Waiting lists for some books are as long as six months. In addition, the system has roughly $8 million in deferred maintenance costs and $1.5 million in deferred technology needs.