FILE – California State Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, speaks about a measure on Capitol Hill in Sacramento, Calif., on March 31, 2022. On Friday, July 1, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill Wiener’s law prohibits police from making arrests on a charge of loitering for prostitution. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Californians will face longer ballots next year as state legislators continue to undermine democratic principles by putting their thumbs on the electoral scales.
Electoral explanations for costly state and local measures, which should be informative but neutral, continue to become propaganda opportunities.
California attorneys general have often skewed the wording of ballot measures across the state. And for local spending measures, officials have abandoned plain language, often refusing even to identify the taxes as taxes.
The politicization of the ballot is about to get worse. Starting next year, candidates for public office can campaign on the ballot by adding their names to support or oppose state or local measures. And a pending bill would provide even more room for electoral swagger.
While liberal Californians express understandable outrage over attacks by Republican states on voting rights, they should also worry about more subtle, but equally insidious moves here to skew election results.
For state measures, the attorney general has constitutional responsibility to write the titles and summaries of the ballots. With Democrats in office for the past 24 years, they have too often used the power of office to favor liberal policies and hurt conservative ones.
Instead, responsibility for writing ballot titles and summaries should fall to the legislative analyst, who is selected by a bipartisan legislative committee to provide objective and unbiased budget and policy analysis.
Such a change would require voters to amend the state Constitution. Senate Constitutional Amendment 3, by Sen. Roger Niello, R-Rancho Cordova, is this year’s attempt to get the issue on the ballot. Don’t hold your breath: Seven previous attempts since 2008 have failed the Legislature.
Starting next year, the ballot label for each state measure will contain, after the 75-word description, a new 250-character section listing nonprofit advocacy groups, elected officials, and others. who support and oppose the proposal.
The requirement, in a bill by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed last year, also applies to local ballot measures unless that county’s board of supervisors opts out. . Santa Clara County plans to include supporters and opponents of local measures, and Contra Costa County Supervisors have wisely opted out. Some Bay Area counties, including Marin, have yet to decide.
In a clever analysis, Kristin Connelly, Contra Costa’s chief of elections, noted that listing supporters and opponents would distract from neutral summary information; lengthen ballot measures by approximately 40%, which will require more ballots; increase county costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars at each election; politicizing the vote, which has traditionally been largely neutral; and provide the opportunity for promotion for candidates who may be on the ballot and who are also a supporter or opponent of a measure.
State Senator Scott Wiener supported the effort to add more political information to the ballot. This year, he introduced a bill to remove key tax information from ballot measure wording for local bond measures. Wiener says it’s too onerous to explain the cost to voters within the 75-word limit.
As we have repeatedly shown, that is false. Local officials already waste too much of precious ballot writing space with incomprehensible consultant-driven nonsense designed to tout the benefits and obfuscate the costs of the measures. In fact, they have mastered the art of deception so well that they consistently include the legally required amount of tax increase from a bond measure without calling it a tax increase.
Wiener’s bill was recently amended in a Senate committee: Ballot wording must still include the amount of money to be collected annually and the rate and duration of the tax, but that information would be excluded from the 75-word limit. In other words, the bill would leave more room on the ballot for swagger before getting to the important details of how much a measure would cost taxpayers.
And there would still be no requirement to identify the tax increase as a tax increase. As the bill moves through the Legislature, it should be amended to require that the ballot wording clearly explain a tax increase and identify it as a tax increase.
Blue California legislators rightly condemn the suppression of red state ballots. But they lose their moral high ground when they undermine the democratic process here.
Daniel Borenstein is an award-winning columnist for the Bay Area News Group and editorial page editor for the East Bay Times.