Ah, the sweet mysteries of rigging elections. That’s what Gov. Jerry Brown, the legislature, the Secretary of State and Los Angeles elections office are trying to do, and they might succeed but for a Sacramento judge last Friday sticking his nose into their business.
Stealing elections is a fine old American tradition. It used to be you’d canvass the local cemetery, jot down the names on the tombstones, and all those good folks would vote for your candidate on Election Day. Now it is more subtle and sophisticated, as Brown and his cohorts are proving in trying to gain ballot advantage for his November tax increase initiative.
Brown came into office in 2011 desperate to increase taxes but promising the people a vote first. He could not get a measure to extend the 2009 tax increase on the ballot in 2011, so for 2012 he decided to go the initiative route. He filed an initiative with plenty of time for the November ballot, but then discovered that two other initiatives were also headed for that ballot, and conventional wisdom was that they would sink the Brown effort. So he negotiated a compromise with one of the initiative sponsors, but the other sponsor, wealthy attorney Molly Munger would not back down.
However, then the calendar began working against Brown. He had to resubmit his new compromise initiative to the Attorney General for title and summary, and pay a huge price to get the necessary signatures to qualify in a very short time. And Munger had a calendar advantage on him, meaning she could turn in her signatures first, and that would put her ahead of him on the November ballot, and in the eyes of most political observers, could cause his measure to go down to defeat.
Here’s the sequence of events Brown faced. Munger turned in her signatures between May 2 and May 8, with 236,000 signatures submitted to the Los Angeles County elections office on May 2. Brown, on the other hand, was forced to wait until May 11 before he had enough signatures to file. Now the law in this area is very clear. Once the Secretary of State determines that enough signatures have been filed with the counties that the initiative might qualify, she orders a random sample count of the signatures, and if 110 percent of the necessary signatures are valid, the measure makes the next ballot.
For Munger the random sample notice date was May 15, and the random results due from the counties on June 27 (30 working days later). But for Brown, the random sample notice date was May 23, a week later, and the random due date was July 7. This created two problems for Jerry Brown. His measure is a constitutional amendment, and thus needed more signatures. He submitted 433,000 to Los Angeles County, and it would take longer to do the random count than the 233,000 Munger signatures. What’s more, both initiatives needed to qualify by June 28 to make the November ballot, but the Brown random due date was well beyond that deadline.
Now, dear reader, if you have borne with me through all this complicated stuff you will see that corrupting the election process is no longer a matter of tombstones voting, but of compliant bureaucrats rigging the rules for the benefit of their political bosses, and hoping nobody will notice. And that is exactly what happened here. Mysteriously the Los Angeles totals for both the Brown and Munger random sample count were reported to the Secretary of State on the same day, June 20, despite the fact that the Munger signatures were fewer and should have been counted before the Brown signatures. With Los Angeles in, both initiatives qualified on the same date, and mysteriously again, the Secretary of State deemed that the Brown measure had qualified first, and thus it would appear on the November ballot above the Munger measure.
The corruption is obvious; bureaucrats or their political bosses in the Los Angeles elections office saw to it that the Brown signatures were counted first, even though Munger got hers in before him. And the bureaucrats or their political bosses in the Secretary of State’s of State’s saw to it that Brown’s measure qualified first, so it would appear above Munger on the November ballot where it thus had a better chance of passage.
The ruse nearly worked, it was far too complex for anyone to take legal action against it, but then the legislature got into the act, deciding that this bit of election jigging was not enough. Without hearings or any public input, the Democratic legislature, desperate that Brown’s taxes pass, moved his measure to the top of the ballot, so it would show up first in November.
They did this with a phony budget trailer bill that appropriated $1,000 so it could be called a budget bill (and require only a majority vote to pass). The legislation is not a budget trailer bill, which by definition is a statutory change related to the budget; this bill is a policy bill to change the order of initiatives on the November ballot to benefit the Brown tax measure. But they could not have been honest about this bill because that would have required an urgency statute and the Democrats could not obtain the necessary two thirds vote.
So now this whole matter is before a Sacramento judge who has suspended the charade until he can have a public hearing on it next week. Let’s us hope that the hearing requires the Los Angeles elections office and the Secretary of State to explain how Brown’s measure leapfrogged the earlier submitted Munger measure. The Mad Hatters in the legislature will no doubt explain their sleight of hand with Alice in Wonderland talk; it’s so because we say it’s so.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant the great Justice Louis Brandeis said a century ago. It is time for some sunlight on this scheme to rig the November election.