When it comes to voters carefully considering each item on an election ballot, bigger is definitely not better.
Political experts say the sheer number of choices Arizona voters face in November — as many as 30, including elected offices and state ballot measures— will have a negative effect on how they vote.
An overload of political advertising, campaign rhetoric and clashing interpretations of propositions can lead to what Kelly McDonald, a professor and expert on voting behavior at Arizona State University, calls “voter fatigue.”
“That is, people will simply vote no because they see more and more line items that necessitate new taxes or other forms of revenue enhancement that they want to avoid,” McDonald said.
As many as 19 propositions will be on ballots statewide, not including local measures.
Bob Grossfeld, a campaign strategist and spokesman for the Arizona Minimum Wage Coalition, said that’s an unusually high number for Arizona.
The coalition is backing Proposition 202, an effort to raise the state’s minimum wage to $6.75 an hour.
“You wind up with a whole lot of decisions to be made, at least on the issue side,” Grossfeld said.
Ballot position becomes an important component of success or failure, he said, because the lower a proposition is listed, the more likely fatigue will be a factor.
“If your supporters are more prone to ballot fatigue, then you’ve got a problem,” he said.
Another negative impact of voluminous ballots is that voters are less likely to take the time to fully consider and understand each issue, McDonald said.
Voters could end up choosing the opposite of what they really want if they don’t know the details of a proposition or what makes it different from a competing measure.
“Voters may tend to become confused and think they’re voting for something when in fact they are voting against it,” McDonald said.
That tendency not to understand competing measures is of particular concern to campaigners involved with two political battles, one over statewide smoking laws and the other concerning organizational changes to the Arizona Land Department.
Troy Corder, campaign strategist for Proposition 201 — which calls for a statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants — said most of his time will be spent trying to educate voters about the differences between his group’s proposition and the competing Proposition 206.
He said voters can expect an advertising blitz from all of the campaigns between mid-September and early October, as backers of each proposition and candidate attempt to shout their message above the din before early voting starts.
“I know that’s when I’m going to be spending a lot of time on it,” Corder said.
Part of the Prop. 206 campaign strategy has been to get its advertisements out before the competition does, spokeswoman Camilla Strongin said.
The group’s supporters, who want to allow smoking in bars and restaurants but with certain restrictions to protect nonsmokers and children, already are running ads that contain a side-byside comparison of the differences between the propositions.
Supporters of competing Land Department reform measures — propositions 105 and 106 — face an even tougher challenge because the differences between the multifaceted propositions are complex and nuanced.
Spencer Kamps, a lobbyist involved with Prop. 105, said the challenge will be coming up with short and simple messages that clearly define how it differs from Prop. 106.
“The more concise the message is, the better off you are in any situation,” Kamps said.
One political committee formed to convince the public to vote against Proposition 204 — which would require tougher rules on the treatment of some farm animals — has taken simplicity to the extreme with campaign signs simply labeling the proposition as “Hogwash.”
But McDonald said even the measures that might seem like an easy sell to voters could have trouble because of the crowded ballot.
With the bulk of media attention focused on the more polarizing measures, less controversial propositions often are simply ignored, he said.
Grossfeld, who has been involved with political campaigns in other states, said Arizonans may have to get used to more items on the ballot as the state continues to grow.
“In California, it’s been ridiculous for years,” he said.
“You may be talking 20 or 30 (propositions) just as a routine there.”