The UX of California Propositions

Published 5 Comments on The UX of California Propositions

California is a pain in the ass.  They have these propositions and initiatives and special elections ALL THE TIME.  Every single time we have to vote, they ask us questions that we can not answer.  It is terribly designed user experience.  Never ask a question that has significant implications that the user has no way of knowing.  It makes it so that they can not effectively answer the question.  Example:

Prop 92
This proposition is to lower the cost of community college.  I went to community college and really appreciated what it did for me.  I support higher education for low income students and want to do my part to support community colleges in the state.  HOWEVER, it does not say how it will pay for this.  So there are a couple of possibilities.  Raise taxes or cut spending.  If republicans are in charge, I imagine they will cut spending to programs that I love dearly. They will cut public transportation, healthcare, k-12 education and even cut community college support funds.  They will gut the system.  If the democrats are in charge, they will probably raise taxes somewhere else, but I have no idea where.

How can I possibly answer the question?  Why are they asking me in the first place?  We elect legislators to make the laws and decide the spending.  The people are not informed and can not possibly make a wise, complex decision based on 3 paragraphs of information.  My message to California:  STOP ASKING ME!  Go figure it out yourselves!  We elected you to make these decisions, not to pass the buck!

In your application, there is a very real corollary,  Dont ask questions that have implications that the user can not disinguish. Example:

Permanently delete.  Does this mean that all the data can never be recovered?  Does it just hide it?  Are there implications for other items that use this first item as a dependency?

Be sure to give options to the user, but try to figure out a system where the user can undo anything and can make decisions with minimal consequences.  It’s hard, but you can do it.  The user elected you to design the system, not to ask them endless questions.


  1. I totally agree with this point of view. The constant bombardment of propositions that are far too complicated on the one hand vs the argument that we should not have term limits on legislators because the “quick” turnover does not allow decision making based on deeper understanding and knowledge re these complicated issus, is absolutely maddening. Penny

  2. The CA proposition system is insane, I agree. I generally vote “no” on all of them unless there’s a damn good reason to do otherwise.

    That website is third party lobbying put up by people who will financially benefit from Prop 92, hence the selective presentation of information. The voter’s guide you get in the mail includes more information about the funding and cost of propositions on the ballot.

  3. Unfortunately, the system in California is getting more popular in other states. Washington State sees more initiatives on the ballot every year, and complex ones with massive implications. This past year I am ashamed to say I didn’t even go to the polls because I didn’t understand what I was voting on well enough to put in my two cents. There were materials I could have used to educate myself – but the voter guide was clearly light on the necessary information. I would have had to consult local newspapers (at least two of them as the PI and the Times have different political slants) and community organizations that took their own stances on the issues. It would have been a LOT of work. It is the first election that I’ve ever missed. When a voter feels like his or her vote would be irresponsible, the system has problems.

  4. Imagine that, they want you to your homework. It’s your civic duty people!

    The problems we have with our governments come from a lack of participation, leaving the choice up to politicians, as though they’re smarter than the people who put them in office.

    Are you expecting the question to be: “In order to create new entitlements and other stuff you don’t care to know, we will raise your taxes a little now and maybe some later. Do you agree?”

  5. @Claude: I read the book. I read every line of it. It still doesn’t give me the information I need to make an informed decision. I have a full time job. These decisions need full time representatives to decide them.
    We live in a republic, NOT a democracy. Contrary to popular opinion.

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