When you open your San Francisco Voter Information Pamphlet for the November 8th election, you’ll be part of a process that exists only in San Francisco. No other city in America has a special volunteer committee dedicated to preparing clear, simple and complete texts of the all the ballot measures its citizens vote on. And the League of Women Voters of San Francisco is an important part of this committee.
The Department of Elections publishes the Voter Information Pamphlet and provides information about candidates, polling places, and the like, but the Ballot Simplification Committee, formed in the 1970s, works with the City Attorney to prepare digests of each proposition that will be included. The Committee prepares the digests in public meetings where they collaborate on changes and consult the City Attorney on legal questions and the Controller’s office on questions of costs. Any member of the public can attend the meetings. Once the Committee reaches consensus on a draft digest, the meeting is opened to public comment. The Committee considers each suggestion put forward by the public and finalizes the draft.
The Committee has five voting members; three are appointed by the Board of Supervisors and two by the Mayor. Two of the three members appointed by the Board of Supervisors must be nominated by either the Northern California Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences or the Northern California Broadcasters Association. The League of Women Voters of San Francisco must nominate the third member. Of the two members appointed by the Mayor, the Northern California Media Workers Guild must nominate one member, and the other member must be an educational reading specialist recommended by the Superintendent of Schools of the San Francisco Unified School District. Each of the members must be a resident and registered voter of the City and County. The City Attorney or his or her representative serves as a non-voting ex officio member
What ballot measures will you see on your local ballot when Nov. 8, 2011 rolls around? This week voters had a chance for a preview as the Ballot Simplification Committee (BSC) started its work. Of the fourteen measures that had been certified, five had been withdrawn before the meetings started, so voters will not be facing quite as crowded a ballot as they have in many recent elections. The ballot measures considered by the committee have not been given official titles, so they are discussed under draft titles which will be replaced by the official titles for publication in the ballot pamphlet. Official titles are assigned to the measures by the Director of Elections.
The first measure discussed on Monday, August 1, dealt with the way students are assigned to public schools in San Francisco. It is a Declaration of Policy, which means that if passed, it will request the Board of Supervisors to take specific actions. The Board of Education, which oversees the schools, of course, is an independent board not governed by the City, so the City can only recommend actions to the School Board—it cannot require them to act. The policy measure was discussed at length primarily to be sure that wording accurately reflected both the current policy and the suggested changes. In fact, the Ballot Simplification Committee was so concerned about exactly what current policy is that it put the measure aside until Thursday so that further information could be solicited from the School Board.
The next measure taken up by the BSC was an ordinance submitted by the Board of Supervisors dealing with the campaign consultants. The ordinance would tweak the definition of who is a campaign consultant—and we are talking here only about consultants on local campaigns, not state or national ones—and would change some of the regulations about how often and in what way consultants must submit reports. This measure went much more quickly and the school assignment measure and the BSC was able to adjourn early that day.
On Tuesday there were two rather short ballot measures: one was a charter amendment to change the way in which ordinances and declarations of policy could be repealed or amended by the Board of Supervisors after they had been passed as ballot measures. Although an important change, the text of the measure itself was short and clear and the committee handled it quickly. The same was true of an initiative brought by the Mayor, which would increase the sales tax paid by San Franciscans. The Mayor’s Budget Director, Greg Wagner, spoke to the committee and clarified some questions about language that might have confused voters.
Wednesday was a day for bond measures. There will be one bond measure on the ballot to raise money to pay for road repairs, street paving and upgrades to street structures such as bridges and stairways. The second bond measure was submitted by the School District which asks that general obligation bonds be issued to pay for renovations and upgrades to various school properties. The BSC was able to handle both of these measures fairly quickly because they are short and straightforward. Persuading the voters to pass them may require much greater effort from the City and the School District.
If you’d like to see these ballot measures in their final form, you can find the text on the Ballot Simplification Committee’s section of the City’s website. This has been a quick rundown of the BSC’s work for this week. Next week we turn to the blockbuster ballot measures for this election—the two dueling city pension amendments. They are likely to attract larger audiences than this week’s crop. Remember that the meetings are open to the public, so if you are interested, come down to City Hall and see for yourself. For those who can’t attend, I’ll report the action on the pension measures starting on Monday, August 8.
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