Mathew Tekulsky was lingering near his Brentwood polling place Tuesday morning, just moments away from marking his ballot.
But he still had questions.
So Tekulsky, a Democrat, turned for advice to the closest available resource -- a protester in a rubber Arnold Schwarzenegger mask.
"So wait," Tekulsky said to the masked man. "Tell me again what I'm supposed to do?"
Los Angeles-area voters could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by Tuesday's special election ballot with its eight complicated statewide measures.
They were asked to decide such weighty issues as abortion rights, legislative redistricting and the re-regulation of California's energy markets, and to grapple with controversial reforms in teacher hiring, labor's role in politics and the budget process.
Locally, voters decided the fate of a nearly $4-billion school-construction bond and voted to fill two L.A. City Council seats.
The election also was widely viewed as a referendum on the governor, who campaigned vigorously for a yes vote on four propositions, portraying them as essential reforms.
And so the people came and voted -- usually with Schwarzenegger on their minds.
At a Brentwood polling place, school counselor Gail Bliss, 51, said she supported the governor and the special election, but acknowledged that he faced tough odds on his initiatives.
"I believe his intentions were good," she said, "and I wish California would have given him a chance." That stood in stark contrast to Efrain Sanchez's take. Sanchez, an architect and independent, said the election was a prime example of Schwarzenegger's arrogance -- spending millions of dollars unnecessarily to promote his own interests.
"The only thing he's improved in the last few years is his pronunciation," quipped Sanchez at the Sanchez Burrito Co. in Monterey Park, which had opened its doors as a polling place.
Jedidiah Lobos, 27, of Palmdale didn't necessarily think an off-year election was needed. But he was glad to vote for the governor's reform package and reaffirm his support for Schwarzenegger, whom he voted for in 2003.
"I think he gets a bad rap because he took over a state in turmoil," said Lobos, an Antelope Valley College instructor.
Karla Archuleta, a Palmdale Republican, also voted for Schwarzenegger in 2003. But the stay-at-home mom was worried that propositions to extend probation for new teachers and curtail state spending might harm public schools.
She said she already was troubled by the state of Chaparral Elementary School, where she dropped off her four children before voting at the school.
"At my school, it's really sad to see that teachers and parents have to donate supplies so our children can write with pencils because our schools can't afford them," she said.
Voters also were split in Schwarzenegger's swank Brentwood neighborhood. About 9:20 a.m., the governor and his wife, Maria Shriver, turned up to vote at the garage of a whitewashed Mediterranean home.
An eager scrum of news people had gathered, hoping for a snatch of election-day speechifying. But the man of the hour sped off with a stiff smile and a thumbs-up through the window of a black Yukon Excel.
Screenwriter Stu Krieger watched it all with a bemused smile from next door. But he didn't have many kind words for the governor. Krieger didn't vote for Schwarzenegger in the recall, but said he still hoped that he would be more like a centrist.
"Part of my cockeyed optimism was with his powerful Democratic wife," said Krieger, 53. "I thought she'd have a lot more influence than she's actually had."
Neighbor Jan Stein, 61, voted for Schwarzenegger in 2003, but was soon dismayed by his irreverent showmanship. But these days, she likes his new, more sober tone. She decided to vote yes on the package.
"I think he's just trying to be the governor now, not the Terminator," she said.
For many voters, policy took precedence over personality as they made a la carte choices from the menu of propositions.
Rancho Palos Verdes resident Fred Nader, a Democrat, said he was a fan of the governor. But he had reservations about the Schwarzenegger-backed Proposition 76, which gives the governor the power to make unilateral budget cuts.
"I wonder if it's giving the governor too much power," said Nader, the owner of a furniture business.
City Terrace resident Alphonso Costello, 25, voted in sync with the state Democratic Party's suggestion -- no on the Schwarzenegger propositions and a prescription drug bill backed by the pharmaceutical companies, and yes on an alternate drug bill and a plan for energy re-regulation.
But he strayed from the party line on Proposition 73, which would require minors to get parental consent before having an abortion. "I just think the parents should know," he said.
Proposition 73 and Proposition 74, a bid to extend probationary periods for teachers, seemed to generate the most heated response among voters.