Ballot language one-sided
October 23, 2011
As soon as my mail ballot arrived I went online to see what changes are being proposed to the Pitkin County Charter.
The proposal to begin publishing summaries rather than the full text of proposed ordinances means that our understanding of what the county commission is working on will only be as good as the completeness and accuracy of the summary. If that doesn’t scare you, you’ve never dealt with government.
It took another week before I discovered the two questions located on the back of the ballot, and a tangential example of the summary problem – in this case as it relates to ballot titles.
The ballot title (the summary of the proposal being voted upon) for the Roaring Fork School District tax increase isn’t just prejudicial, it reads like a freaking political advertisement for passage of the question. It’s actually worse than the language used to describe the Healthy Community Fund tax proposal (which apparently can only be opposed by those who favor a sick community).
The relevant state law tells us that, “The ballot title shall correctly and fairly express the true intent and meaning of the measure.” The “true intent and meaning,” fairly expressed, according to whom? I have little doubt that the authors of these ballot titles think they followed state law to the letter.
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Laws are only as good as the intent of the people who interpret them, and any thought that ballot titles (or summaries of proposed ordinances) will be impartial and/or nonpartisan should be rejected as terminal naivete – so long as we continue to put unrepentant ideologues in positions of power and responsibility.
As the petition representative for an initiative working its way through the court system, I have more than a passing interest in ballot titles. If the Colorado Supreme Court decides that it is acceptable for the electorate to vote on the Entrance to Aspen, the next step will be the setting of a ballot title by Aspen City Council. Since the council opposes fixing the entrance, the ballot title will probably read something like, “Shall the City of Aspen allow an avalanche of traffic sufficient to blot out the sun and kill everyone from asphyxiation?”
It should be a fun campaign.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to mail in your ballot.