Sacramento, Calif. – Assemblyman Roger Niello’s (R-Fair Oaks) effort to bring about common sense reform to California’s initiative process was dealt another blow yesterday by the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting. The committee voted down ACA 20, a measure that would have increased transparency and improved public trust in the initiative process by transferring responsibility for drafting the titles and summaries of ballot initiatives from the Attorney General, a partisan position, to the non partisan Legislative Analyst.
Current elections law for statewide initiatives and referenda tasks the Attorney General with writing a statement of the “chief purpose and points” of each proposed initiative. Unfortunately, as a statewide partisan elected official, the Attorney General is inherently biased. As a result, the title and summary for ballot initiatives can be misleading.
A recent example of inconsistency and bias in a title and summary can be found in a proposed initiative to require voter identification at the polls. Just last week, Attorney General Brown titled the initiative “Limits On Voting.” In 2005, Attorney General Lockyer titled a nearly identical initiative “Voter Identification Requirement.”
The summary that Mr. Lockyer gave the initiative states, “requires that voters present one of four types of picture identification before voting…” Four years later, Attorney General Brown’s characterization of the initiative says it “prohibits citizens from voting…”
Clearly, two different Attorneys General viewed the measures differently and their personal biases influenced their descriptions of the proposed initiatives.
“Regardless of one’s opinion of the measure, this example distinctly highlights the bias that exists,” said Assemblyman Niello. “At a minimum, that bias leads to inconsistency and frequently it leads to outright perversion of the facts.”
The Democrat-controlled Assembly Elections Committee voted along party lines to reject Niello’s measure.