The Ballot Simplification Committee consists of five voting members, two of whom are appointed by the Mayor and three by the Board of Supervisors. Each member is appointed for a two-year term. All members must be registered voters in San Francisco, understand ballot issues, and possess writing skills and training. The members are drawn from a pool of candidates whose names are submitted by specified organizations:
- Northern California Newspaper Guild
- Superintendent of Schools of the San Francisco Unified School District.
- National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
- Northern California Broadcasters Association.
- League of Women Voters
A representative of the City Attorney serves on the committee as a non-voting member.
How the Committee Works
The Committee works with the City Attorney to prepare 300 to 400-word digests of each proposition that will be included in the Voter Information Pamphlet which is mailed out to each registered voter before each election. The BSC establishes the final text of ballot measure descriptions, but the title of each measure is chosen by the Director of Elections.
Committee meetings are held in February for a June election and the first two weeks in August for a November election. Work must be completed 100 days before the election. Meetings usually run from 9:00 to 2:00. The number of days of meeting vary with the number of ballot measures presented on the ballot.
The Committee meets at City Hall and its meetings are videotaped for presentation on the City television channel. All meetings are open to the public and agendas, documentation and drafts are available on the Department of Elections website.
Materials the Committee Uses
Documents needed in the Committee’s work are sent to members ahead of time so they can be read in preparation for the meetings. This documentation includes:
- a 300-400 word summary of each ballot measure written by one of the assistant City Attorneys. This is the basic document that the Committee adds to and edits to make it clear for voters with an 8th-grade reading ability.
- text of the legislation submitted—these vary in length. Usually they are from two to twenty pages, although once there was a 60+ page submission
- additional materials submitted by interested parties concerning the way they would like to see the measure written
The Committee goes over the summary document word by word and makes changes to simplify and clarify the language. They may add additional material or make deletions of unnecessary details. After the committee is satisfied, the public is asked to make comments. The people who appear at the meetings are usually members of the group who has submitted the proposition, a supervisor or the representative of a supervisor or other City official, and members of groups who oppose the measure. Sometimes they have already presented comments in writing, other times they offer new material.
Discussion is often lively, with many groups or individuals arguing over the choice of a particular word or phrase. After all the arguments are heard and changes accepted or rejected, the Committee votes on whether or not to accept the proposal as written. After it has been accepted, individuals or groups can appeal the decision of the Committee. All appeals have to be submitted to the Dept. of Elections within twelve hours of the Committee’s vote.
After all the propositions have been drafted and approved, the Committee goes through all of the appeals. Each one is discussed by the members and the public is invited to comment and add suggestions. Then a vote is taken and a final version approved. No appeals are accepted after that vote. The ballot measures that appear in the Voter Pamphlet are the final versions approved by the Committee.
The final task of the Committee is to edit the list of “Words You Need to Know” which also appears in the Voter Pamphlet. Sometimes a City Department or the City Attorney’s office is asked to provide the definition of a term. Sometimes we use a dictionary. All of the terms are vetted by the Committee for clarity and then the section is approved by a vote of the Committee.
For more information, check out the video below: