The official California state voter guide provides 134 pages of information about 11 statewide ballot measures, including tables, maps and a liberal helping of strike-throughs and parentheses in the fine print.
This is the result, polls suggest, of an initiative process a majority of Californians want.
As the temperature drops this fall, you will read ballot summaries, duck a barrage of television and radio ads and talk with family members and friends.
Then, on Election Day, if this election is like any other, you will manage even on the most complicated initiatives to choose.
"Coping strategies," said Shaun Bowler, a professor of political science at the University of California at Riverside or what some political scientists call "cues."
From asking a neighbor to consulting voter guides, you will look for hints to help you through a statewide ballot that this fall includes three tax measures, a redistricting initiative and a proposition concerning genetically engineered foods.
You'll watch television ads. You'll also consider endorsements made by political parties, interest groups and other people you trust.
For Aaron Schreur, coping is a conversation with his father-in-law over dinner one evening after work.
"We'll sit down and toss some ideas around and see what I like, and that really helps to get a better understanding of what's going on," said Schreur, a cardiovascular perfusionist who lives in Fresno. "Sometimes those ballot measures are a little trickier to understand."
Time to ponder
Schreur, 31, also will consult the state voter guide. The competing arguments presented there can make it hard to tell which choice is best, he said, but if he can determine which position is most fiscally conservative like he is he usually can decide how to vote.
Schreur is one of a growing number of Californians who vote by mail. It lets him take his time.
"We make it a point to actually discuss those local ballot measures," he said, "because we do want to do our part to do our best."
The citizens initiative process in California turned 100 years old last year. According to surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California, about 60 percent of Californians are at least somewhat satisfied with the way it works.
That is not to say voters don't have complaints they cite the influence of special-interest groups in initiative campaigns, among other concerns but think they make better public policy decisions than the governor and the Legislature.
"It's a lot of work," said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. "Given the job they feel the governor and the Legislature are doing, it's work they feel they need to do."
In 2000, the journal American Politics Quarterly published a paper titled "How Voting Is Like Taking an SAT Test," in which researchers analyzed why many people vote in some but not all of the contests appearing on their ballots each year.
The study found voters approach elections much as students do a test, responding to questions they think they can answer correctly and leaving the others blank.
For the most salient measures on the ballot typically those involving highly emotional issues such as the death penalty voters are likely to have made up their minds months or years before Election Day.
For many initiatives that require studying, this is an electorate that favors Cliffs Notes. Yet even if most people do not possess an encyclopedic knowledge of every initiative, neither are they "chimp-like and just believe in the last ad," Bowler said. Voters, he said, are "pretty savvy."
On any given measure, about a third of the electorate has a high degree of knowledge, said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego.
Another third, he said, is "generally confused" and tends to "roll the dice."
Voters in the middle third find "shortcuts," Kousser and other political scientists found in a study last year of voter behavior, including in California elections.
"People look toward folks who they trust," Kousser said. "People look for someone who they think is (A) on their side and (B) knows about this issue."
For conservative voters, that could be a mailer from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. For liberals, a piece from the Sierra Club.
A member of the most knowledgable class of California voters is Debra Lynne Kieffer, a Sacramento woman who has served as a precinct official in prior elections. "By the time I get to the voting booth, my decisions are long made," she said.
That has become easier in recent years, Kieffer said, because campaigns start earlier than they used to, giving her months to let them soak in.
When a pollster asked Kieffer on the telephone recently about a series of initiatives, there was only one she said she didn't know Proposition 39, involving changes to the state's corporate tax formula.
Kieffer, 58, made a note of it and planned to look it up later on Google and in the voter guide published by the secretary of state.
"Typically, I will go ahead and I'll pull down whatever the pros and cons are from the secretary of state," Kieffer said. "I know some people can't understand any of it, but I usually can get enough to say, 'OK, this is what they want to do.' "
Kieffer, who was laid off last year from her job as a payroll supervisor, said she also checks to see who is "pushing" an initiative. She does that by reading news articles online, which she finds through a search engine.
For the majority of prospective voters, it is not the ballot measures but the presidential election that will draw them to the polls.
That is true in swing states but also in heavily Democratic California. That President Barack Obama is likely to carry the state is no deterrent, observers say.
"Voters don't view things that way," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. "Voters have a chance to weigh in on the presidential election, they value that vote."
The extent of the turnout for the presidential election could have significant implications for ballot measures down-ticket, with Obama supporters more likely to vote a certain way and Mitt Romney supporters more likely to vote another.
If you don't have a strong preference for either candidate, you may not vote. As of September, 73 percent of California's eligible voters were registered to vote. Of those 17.3 million registered voters, 20 percent or more may not vote Nov. 6.
Brenda Ruscigno of Oroville likely will be among them. Ruscigno, 38, said she doesn't care to vote for either Obama or Romney, and the ballot measures and local issues on the ballot aren't enough to keep her attention.
"I've always been a voter, and this year I (couldn't) care less," she said. "At this point, I feel like I'm just real lazy about it, just real lazy about having to decide between candidates (none of which) I feel would do a good job."
Of the ballot initiatives, said Ruscigno, a house cleaner and caretaker, "I don't really know anything about them."