Fairness is a paramount principle in American politics. We go to great lengths to ensure fairness at all levels of political campaigns. If a candidate or campaign is given preferential treatment above others, it would provide an unfair advantage and completely undermine the equal opportunity that is an intrinsic part of democracy.
Unfortunately, California’s ballot initiative process has a glaring flaw that allows for the title and summary to be manipulated in a way that can influence an election outcome. The Attorney General, a partisan office, is charged with the responsibility of ensuring voters have a clear, unbiased presentation of each initiative’s purpose and effect. But writing the title and summary for ballot initiatives has become too political, resulting in biased, often misleading information that directly affects how voters determine their support or opposition.
In addition, the California state legislature may place measures on the ballot and have the authority to write their own, often biased titles and summaries. A blatant example of how the public can be misled was the May 2009 Special Election when the legislature placed Proposition 1A on the ballot and craftily drafted a title and summary that concealed a proposed tax increase. In fact, there was no mention in the title or summary that Proposition 1A would increase taxes by $16 billion, the largest tax increase in California history.
Almost every election cycle, the California Attorney General’s office is sued by initiative proponents over title and summary language. And in almost every case the courts give deference to the Attorney General.
Recently a California State Senator was forced to a file suit when an initiative he sponsored received a misleading title and summary. The initiative requires valid photo identification prior to voting. But Attorney General Jerry Brown’s summary described it as placing a “limit” on voting and “prohibits citizens from voting” without identification. Such biased language was designed to deter voters from supporting the measure. This is just one of many examples of how the current system allows for dishonest representation of an initiative’s true intent.