Bulky voter guides cause worry in Calif.

/ Source: The Associated Press

Voter guides are landing with a big thud on doorsteps across California, with residents confronted with an unusually large number of ballot measures and candidates in next month's election.

Election officials worry that the state's largest guides - 192-page books sent to 12 million homes - will overwhelm and discourage would-be voters.

The array of complicated issues on the ballot could also lead to long lines and delays at polling sites if people haven't done their homework.

Insufficient postage concerns
"The state guide is pretty overwhelming. I haven't gotten through it myself," Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling said. "My absentee ballot is sitting here in my desk drawer because I haven't read it all yet."

A majority of voters are expected to vote by mail. But the ballots are so big that election officials fear some may be returned for insufficient postage.

California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said 24 counties have mail-in ballots exceeding one ounce and therefore requiring 63 cents of postage. He is working with the post office to help ensure that ballots with only one 39-cent stamp will be delivered by Election Day.

The November sample ballot in San Joaquin County is the largest ever - 100 to 124 pages, depending on the district, or triple the normal size. Many pages are devoted to a proposed tax increase to pay for road and rail projects.

San Joaquin County Registrar Debby Hench said printing costs in a typical election are about $300,000, but the cost this time could be double.

"We know they're big and intimidating-looking, so we're telling voters they need to pre-mark the sample ballot and be prepared when they go into the booth so they don't have to read everything in the polling place - they will never be able to do that in a timely way," Hench said.

Burgeoning ballots
California guides have been swelling since the '70s, when candidates, voters and interest groups increasingly turned to state propositions to enact legislation.

The October 2003 special election, in which Gov. Gray Davis was recalled from office and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger from a field of 135 candidates, required super-sized ballots and guides. But at least it was light reading, with quips from candidates such as Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, former sitcom star Gary Coleman and melon-smashing comedian Leo Gallagher.

By contrast, the November ballot lists candidates for eight statewide offices, 13 propositions and local ballot measures in nearly all 58 counties.

"Voting in this state can sometimes feel like doing your taxes," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.