The Alameda County Grand Jury found the ballot language for Measure TT suffered from “proponent’s bias,” and the following is a letter on the matter dated August 10, 2021 to the Piedmont City Council from the president of the League of Women Voters of Piedmont:
Dear Councilmembers and City Staff:
I am writing on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Piedmont (LWVP) Board of Directors regarding the 2021 Alameda County Grand Jury Report on “The Need for Accuracy and Impartiality of Ballot Measure Questions.” A copy of the report is attached and can also be found online at http://grandjury.acgov.org/grandjury-assets/docs/2020-2021/Ballot Measures.pdf.
The grand jury’s report focused on the accuracy, transparency and impartiality of government sponsored ballot questions. They found that ballot questions suffer from “proponent’s bias” and fall short of what voters have a right to expect in terms of truthfulness and impartiality.
The League supports transparency in local government and there are few better examples for the necessity for transparency than in the language of a government sponsored ballot question. Language that is biased, unclear, or unnecessary falls short of our expectations for a fair and transparent government.
Looking specifically at the example of Piedmont’s Measure TT, the grand jury found that the ballot question contained language that was irrelevant or unnecessary to describe the measure. The grand jury also found that because of the irrelevant or unnecessary language that delineated specific spending, Measure TT could have been mistaken by voters to propose a special tax instead of the general tax that it is. This is especially troubling because approval of general tax measures requires only a simple majority whereas special tax measures require a two-thirds majority. Both the League’s published Pros & Cons document and the City Attorney’s Impartial Analysis of Measure TT stated, “[f]unds generated by the proposed tax increase are not restricted and may be used for any City general revenue purpose.” We know, however, that not all voters have access to nor will be able to read these additional resources prior to casting a ballot. It is important for voters that the language of the ballot question itself be unbiased and clear.
We hope that the City of Piedmont will ensure that the language of future ballot questions addresses the concerns set forth in the grand jury report. We are copying the Piedmont Unified School District Board of Education on this letter so they may also keep these principles in mind when sponsoring ballot measures in the future. The League stands, as always, ready to assist in any efforts that will result in a more fair and transparent local government.
Lorrel A. Plimier
President, League of Women Voters of Piedmont