Heaven knows that the California initiative process could benefit from a little entertainment value. For every ballot item attaining the drama of a citizens’ revolt—Proposition 13, which rolled back property taxes in 1978, comes to mind—voters must consider hundreds more whose meaning and intent are dulled by misleading advertising, special-interest maneuvering, and official language guaranteed to make even a policy wonk doze off.
This month, for the first time in the state’s history, Californians can go to the polls duly informed by the cartoon likes of a cheery middle-aged punk, a sushi chef, and a dead ringer for Henry Kissinger. Launching in earnest for the June elections, the Web site See Political aims to convey the plain meaning of propositions through comedy sketches and a theme song that owe a debt to School House Rock, whose animated civics lessons saturated Saturday-morning TV in the ’70s. The shorts are produced by Imaginary Forces, the animation studio that created the opening credit sequences for Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men.
The 32-year-old founder of the site, Nate Kaplan, came up with the concept while serving as communications director for then-L.A. city councilman Bill Rosendahl. “People get so overwhelmed that they’ll say, ‘I’ll just vote no on everything.’ Or, ‘I always vote no on taxes,’ ’’ Kaplan says. “But sometimes by voting no on an issue they’ll actually be voting for it.”
See Political’s videos are nonpartisan. Volunteer policy analysts interview proponents and opponents and review ballot language to make sense of the initiatives, which are then incorporated into nonsensical situations. Proposition 41, which broadens the scope of a previous housing measure for homeless veterans, is explained by a retro robot to such unlikely voters as a yellow blob at a taco truck and a hippie about to light up at the beach. “The characters can make fun of themselves or each other,” Kaplan explains, “but never the issues.”