Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday. March 18, 2010


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C.A. Orders Slight Change in Proposition 14 Ballot Language




Proposition 14 cannot be described as a “reform” of the election process in the ballot materials for the June 8 primary election, the Third District Court of Appeal has ruled.

The justices, in an unpublished opinion filed late Tuesday, said the word connotes a positive change and thus fails the requirement that the ballot label, title, and summary for a measure consist of neutral language. They ordered the words “reform” and “reforming” be altered to “change” and “changing.”

But they rejected an effort by opponents to force other changes in wording.

In a separate case, the court sided with state Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor in his bid to reinstate language stating that Proposition 14 would result in “[n]o significant change in state and local government costs to administer language.”

If approved by voters, Proposition 14 would change partisan primaries for state and congressional office so the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, would advance to the general election.

It was placed on the ballot by the Legislature as a constitutional amendment during last year’s Third Extraordinary Session as part of a compromise designed to get its leading backer, Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, to vote for the budget. But most legislators, in both parties, oppose it.

Previous Petition

Opponents earlier this month petitioned the Sacramento Superior Court to order changes in the label, title and summary, which they called biased and misleading. Last Friday, however, Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner ordered changes in the text that were hailed by supporters, including Maldonado, who accused the petitioners of a “sneaky attempt to derail the open primary,” according to The Associated Press.

As revised by the trial judge, the ballot label would have described Proposition 14 as follows:


“Reforms the primary election process for congressional, statewide, and legislative races. Allows all voters to choose any candidate regardless of the candidate’s or voter’s political party preference. Ensures that the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes will appear on the general election ballot regardless of party preference. Fiscal Impact: The data are insufficient to identify the amount of any increase or decrease in costs to administer elections.”

Title and Summary

The ballot title and summary would have included the statement that Proposition 14 “[e]ncourages increased participation in elections for congressional, legislative, and statewide offices by reforming the procedure by which candidates are selected in primary elections.”

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal largely upheld Sumner’s ruling, but said the trial judge was wrong regarding the use of the words “reform” and “reforming.”

Justice Vance Raye, writing for the court, cited Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Black’s Law Dictionary for his conclusion that “reform” means to “improve,” to create “a better method or course of action,” or “streamlining, modernizing, or otherwise improving.”

Raye concluded:

“There appears to us little doubt that inclusion of the word ‘reform’ is misleading insofar as it reflects an inherent value judgment that there is a need for ‘reform’ of the existing electoral process. Any ‘reform’ is, quite simply, a positive ‘change.’ And ‘change’ is the word that petitioner asked the superior court use in place of ‘reform.’”

The justice went on, however, to say that there is nothing misleading or biased about saying that Proposition 14 increases the right to participate in primary elections. He noted that the means by which the measure would increase the right—giving “voters increased options in the primary by allowing all voters to choose any candidate regardless of the candidate’s or voter’s political party preference”—is accurately described in the ballot summary.

Nor, Raye said, is it misleading to state in the ballot summary that Proposition 14 “[e]ncourages increased participation” and “[g]ives voters increased options,” where the summary accurately explains how this is done.

In the Taylor case, the court agreed with the legislative analyst, and with Proposition 14 supporters, that the trial judge lacked a valid basis for inserting new “Fiscal Impact” language in place of the legislative analyst’s assertion that the measure would result in “[n]o significant net change in state and local government costs to administer elections.”

The cases are Clark v. Superior Court (Bowen), C0664430, and Taylor v. Superior Court (Bowen), C064428.


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