Manipulating the Ballot

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The California Supreme Court’s decision to hold off ruling on an advisory measure that called for overturning the United States Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision on campaign finance stalled a bad habit the legislative majority has engaged in to manipulate the ballot for political purposes.

Although the legislature already passed a resolution supporting a constitutional convention to overturn Citizen’s United, the majority Democrats took the additional step to place an advisory measure on the November ballot, it was argued, for the voters to express their opinion on overturning Citizen’s United. Many commentators saw another objective:Increase Democratic voter turnout in an election in which many expect a small number of voters to participate.

The court’s action will keep the measure off the November ballot.

The California court was following precedent set in a 1984 case in which an advisory measure on a federal balanced budget amendment was tossed from the state ballot. The court declared that the ballot measure was not a “public opinion poll.” In putting the advisory measure on hold, the majority on the court essentially said the same thing – direct democracy is to make law, not to ask for opinions.

Meanwhile, the legislature also considered bills to change the order of ballot measures to try and influence the outcome of the election. The goal is to renumber ballot propositions to put the legislative-passed measures — the rainy day fund and a potential new water bond — at the top of the ballot with the belief that measures the voters deal with first have a better chance of approval.

This is not the first time Democrats in the legislature pulled this trick. In the 2012 election, the legislature altered the way initiative measures were placed on the ballot. Instead of securing a ballot position in the order initiatives qualified for the ballot as had been done for years, the legislature passed a law that constitutional amendments must go first.

In passing this legislation, the legislature further manipulated the process by including a $1,000 appropriation so they could claim the measure was related to the budget bill and would take effect immediately, thus becoming effective for the November 2012 election.

There was no secret the change was made to boost the chances of the tax increase proposal supported by the Governor and Democratic legislators.

In addition, the legislature in 2011 took the step of moving all initiatives to the November ballot. Again the not so secret goal was to have ballot measures decided in an election in which the turnout of Democratic voters was higher proportionally than during a June primary. Or as the New York Times headlined an article reporting the change: “New Calif. Ballot Law Seen as Boon to Liberal Initiatives.”

Biasing rules to favor one side or the other on political questions is another reason the general public is losing faith in the political process.

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