The Corner

Props and Wording

Another interesting email:

Your reader has a point about the unfair wording of Prop. 54 on the ballot. You should know, however, that Prop. 209 (banning affirmative action) was unfairly worded in the other direction– the description mentioned nothing about affirmative action or even racial preferences, even though that’s what the proposition was supposed to address– it just said it would ban “discrimination or preferential treatment” based on race, national origin, sex, etc. I realize that the voter CAN figure out what that means (just as a voter COULD figure out what 54 was going to do), but an honest ballot would have said that it was an initiative to dismantle affirmative action or racial preference programs, or programs that give preferences to minorities, etc. After all, that really was what the issue was.

There is one other example of this. A few years ago, there was a ballot initative sponsored by insurance companies to preclude uninsured motorists from suing for pain and suffering in auto accidents. The law was written, however, to say that “felons, drunk drivers, and uninsured motorists” could not sue– felons and drunk drivers, however, were already prohibited from suing; the only change in the law was to add uninsured motorists to the list. The ballot description was written to emphasize felons and drunk drivers and deemphasize uninsured motorists, because the uninsured motorist issue was a lot more controversial, even though the only actual change in the law was to prohibit suits by uninsured motorists. The measure passed.

Basically, it comes down to whoever’s in charge of the Secretary of State’s office. During the times when Republicans were in charge, the ballot texts were slanted towards the right, and now with Democrats in charge there, they are slanted towards the left. And you are right to point this out– it does have an impact. I would have thought going in that the Proposition 54 would have passed by a similar margin to 209 (or at least that it would have passed), given that it broke down along the same lines politically, but it didn’t, and the ballot text has probably got something to do with it.

Such is the peril of direct democracy.


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