Voter Guide: 2020 California and Presidential Election Edition

Finally, after the longest year/pandemic/election campaign of our lives, it’s time to vote. I have seen, in my feeds, a lot of discourse about how effective voting is. I’m realistic: we can’t overturn a bad system by voting. However, voting is one tool we have and we should use everything available. Voting is the easiest way to make your voice heard.

This guide is for California voters. I explain how I plan to vote and why. Here are some reminders and resources for California voters:

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on politics or government. I’m just a person who’s good at reading and looking things up. You can use this as a starting point for your own decision-making. If you’re already exhausted and you trust me, you can vote how I vote. If you think I’m a dumb idiot, you can vote the opposite of how I vote. Vote how you want, but please vote.

Quick Reference

For the voter in a hurry who thinks I’m a good judge of these things, here is a summary of my votes.

Office or PropositionVote
President and Vice PresidentBiden and Harris
14 (stem cell research)Yes
15 (commercial property tax)Yes
16 (affirmative action)Yes
17 (restoring voting rights)Yes
18 (17 year olds can vote in primary elections)Yes
19 (property tax assessment rules)Yes
20 (designates more crimes as felonies)No
21 (rent control)Yes
22 (ride share employee rights)No
23 (dialysis clinic requirements)Yes
24 (consumer privacy laws)No
25 (bail system referendum)Yes

President and Vice President

My vote: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

No one who knows me should be surprised by the fact that I’m voting Biden/Harris. A lot of the initial conversation around Biden was like “okay, fine, I’ll settle for Biden.” He’s not the socialist candidate of our dreams, but that’s okay. The policies he’s putting out there are good. Biden supports a public health insurance option. There’s absolutely no question that things would be worse with four more years of Trump than four years of Biden. A vote for Trump is a great way to let everyone in your life who isn’t a straight white man know that you’re not concerned about their rights.

A tweet that reads: I'm voting for Biden because I'd rather fight to dismantle the two party system under a capitalist oligarchy than under a militarized fascist regime.
Same, Blake. Same.

A note on third-party voting: I agree that this country absolutely needs more political options. Unfortunately, this is not the election to take that chance. We have to stop the bleeding. I would, however, love to see (and vote for) third-party candidates in local and state offices. Given the way the electoral college works, we’re not going to have a viable third-party candidate for president. We have to start locally.

California State Propositions

California has 12 propositions on the ballot this election, starting with Proposition 14.

Proposition 14

Authorizes bonds continuing stem cell research initiative.

A Yes vote on Proposition 14 means the state could sell $5.5 billion in general obligation bonds primarily for stem cell research and the development of new medical treatments in California

My vote: Yes.

The backstory on Proposition 14 is that California authorized $3 billion in bonds to fund stem cell research in 2004 through Proposition 71 (back when stem cells were a contentious issue), which also established the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Voting yes on proposition 14 would allow the state to sell another $5.5 billion in bonds to continue stem cell funding. I had to think this one over because $5.5 billion is a lot, but stem cell research can lead to lots of advancements. Science moves incrementally and what we learn here might not have an immediate application until someone discovers something else and connects the ideas. It is worth the investment. Ultimately, I am voting for this because money is imaginary anyway, and the only donor opposing this is the California “Pro Life” Council.

Proposition 15

Increases funding sources for public schools, community colleges, and local government services by changing tax assessment of commercial and industrial property.

A Yes vote on this measure means: Property taxes on most commercial properties worth more than $3 million would go up in order to provide new funding to local governments and schools.

My vote: Yes

Property taxes in California are currently calculated based on what you paid for the property. If you bought the land for a nickel in 1910, your property taxes today in 2020 are based on that original five-cent payment. Proposition 15 would change this for commercial and industrial property, but not residential. This means that people who own land for business purposes would pay taxes based on the current value of that land. This would mostly only affect property owners who have $3 million or more of commercial land or buildings. In short, this is literally taxing the rich and I am all for it.

Proposition 16

Allows diversity as a factor in public employment, education, and contracting decisions.

A Yes vote on this measure means: State and local entities could consider race, sex, color, ethnicity, and national origin in public education, public employment, and public contracting to the extent allowed under federal and state law.

My vote: yes

Proposition 16 is about what we typically call “affirmative action.” The legislature put this proposition on the ballot to repeal Proposition 209, passed in 1996, which banned affirmative action in public employment, stating “The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

Not discriminating sounds great, but our default right now is to discriminate in favor of white men. For example, although women are well represented in public employment, they are under-represented at the top levels. Until we live in a society that truly promotes people on merit and not race or sex, I think we need affirmative action. Think about how often you see an all-female or all-black board of directors. Now: how often do you see a board composed of all white men?

Proposition 17

Restores right to vote after completion of prison term.

A Yes vote on this measure means: People on state parole who are U.S. citizens, residents of California, and at least 18 years of age would be able to vote, if they register to vote.

My vote: Yes

Did you know that people in prison or on parole are not allowed to vote? California has over 100,000 people in prison and about 50,000 people currently paroled. Proposition 17 would grant parolees the right to vote (people in prison would still not be permitted to vote).

I think it’s important that as many people be allowed to vote as possible if we want to have a truly representative government. Committing a crime doesn’t mean your voice shouldn’t count. Plus, if prisoners can’t vote, it can incentivize jailing one’s political opposition or locking up people you don’t want to vote. Consider the fact that “28.5% of the state’s male prisoners were African American—compared to just 5.6% of the state’s adult male residents.” When our system is disproportionately keeping certain groups in prison and not others, then denies prisoners the right to vote, it sends a clear message about whose voice has value. Let’s vote to change that. Oh, and you know who is against this proposition? The Republican Party.

Proposition 18

Amends California constitution to permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary and special elections if they will turn 18 by the next general election and will be otherwise eligible to vote.

A Yes vote on this measure means: Eligible 17-year-olds who will be 18 years old by the time of the next general election may vote in the primary election and any special elections preceding the general election.

My vote: Yes

As with proposition 17, I’m taking the stance that expanding voting rights is a good thing. It makes sense to me that 17 year olds who will be 18 by the November election should be allowed to vote in primary elections. This will let them have a say in the whole election, not just at the end.

I highly recommend reading the unhinged argument against proposition 18 for its comedic value. I get the argument that the brain isn’t fully developed at 17, but neither is the brain fully developed at 18. If that’s the argument you want to make, set the voting age to 25.

Proposition 19

Changes certain property tax rules.

A Yes vote on this measure means: All homeowners who are over 55 (or who meet other qualifications) would be eligible for property tax savings when they move. Only inherited properties used as primary homes or farms would be eligible for property tax savings.

My vote: Yes

Shout out to Ballotpedia for helping me understand this proposition. This is another “tax the rich” proposition, and you know how I love taxing the rich. Proposition 19 will allow people over 55, disabled people, or victims of disasters to transfer their property tax assessments anywhere in the state up to three times (currently limited to one). This means that, if you buy a new house that has the same (or less) value as your current house, you can keep your current property tax rate. Now for the tax-the-rich part: when someone inherits a property and isn’t going to use it as their principal residence (that is, a rental or second home), the property would be reassessed and the new owner would pay taxes based on the current value. This means if your parents give you their Lake Tahoe vacation home that they bought in 1975 for $40, you wouldn’t pay taxes based on that $40 purchase price, but the current market value of the home—assuming you weren’t planning to live there full time.

Proposition 20

Restricts parole for certain offenses currently considered to be non-violent. Authorizes felony sentences for certain offenses currently treated only as misdemeanors.

A No vote on this measure means: Penalties for people who commit certain theft-related crimes would not be increased. There would be no change to the state’s process for releasing certain inmates from prison early. Law enforcement would continue to be required to collect DNA samples from adults only if they are arrested for a felony or required to register as sex offenders or arsonists.

My vote: No

We should tread very carefully when it comes to giving the state the ability to classify more people as felons. A felony conviction means you can no longer vote, receive welfare, or do certain jobs. Proposition 20 is a reaction to some recent initiatives that have reduced the number of people in California prisons. I think this sums it up:

“When we’re considering … a proposal that would increase penalties for low-level offenses, in a system that’s already profoundly biased against Black, indigenous and Latino Californians, I think it’s clear that it would only extend the harm of our criminal justice system,” Washburn said, trapping “more and more Californians in that really difficult-to-escape cycle of entering and exiting jails and courts and probation.”

Proposition 21

Expands local governments’ authority to enact rent control on residential property.

A Yes vote on this measure means: State law would allow cities and counties to apply more kinds of rent control to more properties than under current law.

My vote: Yes.

Passing Proposition 21 would modify the limitations of an existing law, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act that says rent control can’t apply to single-family homes or new housing built after 1995. Proposition 21 would permit cities and counties to establish rent control measures for housing more than 15 years old (excluding single-family homes owned by people with just one or two properties). Importantly, this proposition doesn’t establish rent control, but it does make rent control possible, which would allow cities to limit how much landlords can raise rents at a time. Having lived in apartments where the rent goes up 10 percent every year, I can easily imagine that rent control would be welcome for most people.

Proposition 22

Exempts app-based transportation and delivery companies from providing employee benefits to certain drivers.

A No vote on this measure means: App-based rideshare and delivery companies would have to hire drivers as employees if the courts say that a recent state law makes drivers employees. Drivers would have less choice about when, where, and how much to work but would get standard benefits and protections that businesses must provide employees.

My vote: No.

The State of California recently ruled that rideshare companies Uber and Lyft have mis-classified their workers as independent contractors instead of actual employees. The ruling states that the companies violated Assembly Bill 5, which establishes three criteria to determine if a worker is, in fact, an independent contractor. Why does this matter? Companies have to pay payroll taxes and provide benefits for employees. but not independent contractors. These companies are highly invested in not paying for employees. Take a look at the top donors to the “yes” campaign:

Top donors in support of Proposition 22

It seems clear to me that Uber, Lyft, and the rest are desperate to not have their workers classified as employees. This puts an unfair strain on workers while corporations profit.

Proposition 23

Establishes state requirements for kidney dialysis clinics. Requires on-site medical professional.

A Yes vote on this measure means: Chronic dialysis clinics would be required to have a doctor on-site during all patient treatment hours.

My vote: Yes.

Here’s a list of what will happen if Proposition 23 passes, from Ballotpedia:

  • Requires at least one licensed physician on site during treatment at outpatient kidney dialysis clinics; authorizes California Department of Public Health to exempt clinics from this requirement if there is a shortage of qualified licensed physicians and the clinic has at least one nurse practitioner or physician assistant on site.
  • Requires clinics to report dialysis-related infection data to state and federal governments.
  • Prohibits clinics from closing or reducing services without state approval.
  • Prohibits clinics from refusing to treat patients based on the source of payment for care.

This all seems sensible to me, so I wondered who was against it. The main opponent is Davita, Inc, which provides outpatient dialysis services and has contributed almost $60 million to oppose the new regulations. I think an industry fighting against regulation is usually a sign that it would benefit regular people.

Proposition 24

Amends consumer privacy laws.

A No vote on this measure means: Businesses would continue to be required to follow existing consumer data privacy laws. Consumers would continue to have existing data privacy rights. The state’s Department of Justice would continue to oversee and enforce these laws.

My vote: No.

This is a tricky one. The consumer privacy rights Proposition 24 would enact do genuinely seem good. When I saw that the ACLU opposes this proposition, I did a little more research. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a thorough explanation of what’s right and wrong with Proposition 24. The EFF also sides with the ACLU in opposing it. Here is one of the most glaring problems:

Prop 24 would expand “pay for privacy” schemes. Specifically, the initiative would exempt “loyalty clubs” from the CCPA’s existing limit on businesses charging different prices to consumers who exercise their privacy rights. See Sec. 125(a)(3). This change would allow a business to withhold a discount from a consumer, unless the consumer lets the business harvest granular data about their shopping habits, and then profit on disclosure of that data to other businesses. The initiative also would expand an existing CCPA loophole (allowing “financial incentives” for certain data processing) from just “sale” of such data, to also “sharing” of it.

Unfortunately, pay-for-privacy schemes pressure all Californians to surrender their privacy rights. Worse, because of our society’s glaring economic inequalities, these schemes will unjustly lead to a society of privacy “haves” and “have-nots.”

Proposition 25

Referendum on law that replaced money bail with system based on public safety and flight risk.

A Yes vote on this measure means: No one would pay bail to be released from jail before trial. Instead, people would either be released automatically or based on their assessed risk of committing another crime or not appearing in court if released. No one would be charged fees as a condition of release.

My vote: Yes.

This proposition is a statewide referendum on SB 10, which is a regulation that California legislators approved and the government signed in 2018. SB 10 replaced the system of cash bail, in which people pay to get out of jail while awaiting trial, with one that releases people based on risk, instead of how much money they have. This is certainly a better system than the previous, although the ACLU says it’s far from perfect. As usual, what I find most telling is who is supporting this legislation. The people who stand to profit the most, bail companies, are the ones who started this referendum and are supporting the “no” campaign. This system needs to be improved, but going back to cash bail is not the answer.


I hope this helped you figure out how you want to vote on the California ballot propositions. If you have questions or think I got it wrong, leave a comment and I will do my best to answer.

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