CSAC Bulletin Article

Ballot Transparency and Local Redistricting Bills Still in Play

September 5, 2019

With the 2019 Legislative deadline quickly approaching, CSAC continues to engage with legislators and fellow advocates on a number of important measures. Two bills still pending, both of which CSAC has been actively lobbying, would revise components of county elections and redistricting.

SB 268, by Senator Scott Wiener, would improve ballot transparency for local bond and parcel tax measures, giving voters more information about how the measures would affect their taxes. Local agencies could do this by including in the ballot label the words “See voter guide for tax rate information” and then providing detailed information about the measure’s effects on taxes in the voter guide. Current law, as amended over the past two years, requires counties and other local agencies to include in the 75-word ballot label very specific information that polling shows confuses voters, instead of informing them.

The bill would not only give local agencies the alternative to remove the currently required confusing language, it would also give them the opportunity to provide more, and clearer, information in the voter guide so voters can make informed decisions about these important local measures.

Requiring confusing financial terms to be included in ballot labels over time will have the unintended effect of less public investment in local communities. CSAC strongly supports SB 268 because it ensures voters are provided objective and clear information on local tax measures.

SB 139, by Senator Ben Allen, would require any county with a population of at least 400,000 residents to establish an independent redistricting commission to draw the county’s supervisorial districts. The bill also prescribes the qualifications, the application process, and the selection process for the commission members and lists the requirements for public hearings and public access of the commission.

Counties appreciate the value and importance of a fair redistricting process and the goal of equitable representation in all levels of governance. However, this measure, which would impact up to 22 counties, is concerning because of the state’s unwillingness to provide the funding required to implement the independent commissions. The provisions of the bill constitute a clear mandate for which the state will be required to reimburse counties, as required by the Constitution, but past experience indicates the state will try to avoid paying mandated costs by suspending the mandate.

When provisions of a statewide bill are issues of statewide importance, then the state should be willing to pay the cost. If not, then it would be better to leave the statute as is, allowing each community to decide for itself whether it wishes to create a commission to make the redistricting process more independent.

Without full and appropriate funding provided to counties in order to meet the obligations of this bill, CSAC remains opposed.

Both SB 268 and SB 139 are currently pending on the Assembly Floor. If the Assembly passes them, they will move back to the Senate for concurrence.

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