Proposition 40, a referendum on the newly redrawn state Senate district lines, may be the oddest measure before Californians in this election cycle. The people who put it on the ballot were hoping for a "no" vote, which is odd enough in itself, but then they changed their minds and withdrew from the campaign entirely. The result: There is no organized No on 40 campaign, and substantial confusion remains about what exactly the measure would do. Voters should resist the temptation to vote no out of frustration and instead should approve it after taking a moment to understand what they're being asked to support and why.
First, a word on how Proposition 40 came to be on the ballot. California voters recently shifted responsibility for drawing legislative district boundaries from the Legislature to a nonpartisan redistricting commission. That was a wise move, designed to avoid the conflict of interest inherent in allowing lawmakers to draw their own lines. But the redrawn districts did not please everyone. Specifically, some Republicans were concerned that the new state Senate lines would hurt their chances of retaining at least one-third of the seats in that body — an important threshold, as it allows the minority party to block bills that require the approval of a two-thirds supermajority.
So those disaffected Republicans pressed for a referendum, a rarely used device by which California voters are allowed to review — and either uphold or reject — the work of certain political bodies, including the Legislature. In this case, a no vote on Proposition 40 would reject the lines drawn by the redistricting commission, though it's a bit unclear who would be required to redraw them. Ultimately, however, the Republicans had second thoughts and decided that they were willing to live with the commission's work after all.
All of this, of course, is another reason to be frustrated by California's penchant for turning to voters on every trivial matter before government at all levels. And it's tempting, in the confusion over long ballots and ill-advised initiatives, to vote no on such matters. But that's the wrong approach to this measure.