How California Politicians Manipulate Voters with Deceptive Ballot Titles

How California Politicians Manipulate Voters with Deceptive Ballot Titles

Democrats control the ballot title process in California and they have abused that control to put false and misleading titles on ballot measures. Reform California is proposing to change that to remove bias and make elections honest.

Since 1911, California voters have had the Constitutional right to place “citizen initiatives” directly on the ballot and impose reform on their politicians. In addition to the right to recall politicians from office, the citizen initiative serves as a key check on state and local government.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) contends that initiative titles and summaries

should be “concise, accurate, and impartial.” However, in California, partisan politicians decide what verbiage ultimately goes on the ballot. 

The California Attorney General is responsible for writing state initiative ballot titles and summaries. This has led to what opponents label “confusing” language that tricks voters into approving measures they don’t agree with.

Carl DeMaio, chairman of Reform California, knows this all too well after fighting to get Proposition 6 on the ballot in 2018. 

In 2018 Prop 6 aimed to repeal the highly unpopular car and gas tax hikes imposed by Senate Bill 1. However, the proposed ballot title “Gas Tax Repeal Initiative” was switched to “Eliminates Recently Enacted Road Repair and Transportation Funding.”

“The Democrat Attorney General manipulated voters with ballot language written to make you believe the state would lose valuable ‘road repair’ funding — when the truth was that the money was really going to the general fund to finance liberal pet projects,” explained DeMaio. 

“The initiative actually sought to repeal recent increases in the gas tax and car registration fees and let voters decide for themselves on increases in the future,” DeMaio continued.

In 2020 politicians again gave a biased title to Proposition 15. The measure would have been a property tax hike that repealed sections of Prop 13 from 1978. Rather than state this, Prop 15’s title was “Increases Funding for Schools and Community Services…” 

“Prop 15 was sneaky — there wasn’t a single mention of ‘tax increase’ in the title,” said DeMaio. “California state politicians are liars, cheats, and thieves and we see it on the local level too as politicians place measures on your ballot that raise taxes without telling you,” DeMaio explained.

But how much does language alter the outcome of the election? 

In 2018, Competitive Edge Research & Communication (CERC) conducted a statewide poll of 428 randomly sampled likely voters, with a +/- 4.7% margin of error. The poll surveyed voters on their likelihood to vote for Prop 6 given actual vs proposed ballot language. A yes vote would repeal the gas and car taxes, and a no vote would leave them in place.

Voter preferences with the actual ballot language, “Eliminates Recently Enacted Road Repair and Transportation Funding,” closely followed the results of the 2018 election: 50% voted no and 32% voted yes. In reality, Prop 6 was defeated 57-43%.

However, the proposed ballot language, “Repeal the Gas Tax and Repeal the Vehicle Fees,” saw inverse results: 48% voted yes and 38% voted no. 

“The results of these polls and common sense is clear — politicians robbed the voters of cheaper gas and car registration fees by confusing them on the ballot,” said DeMaio. “Now we’re really seeing the results of that in the current gas crisis, where $1.26 per gallon is just taxes in California that could be eliminated and provide immediate relief to struggling families,” he said.

Republicans in the State Legislature recently attempted to pause the gas tax, but the effort was defeated along party lines — with Democrats supporting a further 2.86¢ gas tax increase this July.

DeMaio and Reform California are proposing a way to change the citizen initiative and remove politicians from the process, instead giving the responsibility for writing ballot titles and summaries to a neutral and independent body.

The Reform California proposal is simple:

  1. Take Politicians Out of the Process: The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office shall provide the Title and Summary of all state ballot measures. In cases where an initiative is a Citizens’ Initiative, the Citizens shall also be able to offer a short Title for their Initiative to accompany the Title provided by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Local governments shall be required to designate a neutral third-party (such as County Counsel or City Attorney) to devise ballot Titles and Summaries.
  2. Require all Tax Hikes Be Disclosed: The words “TAX INCREASE” shall be the first words of the title for any measure that increases taxes.
  3. Give Courts Jurisdiction: Courts should be empowered to make additional modifications to Titles and Summaries of ballot measures if any misleading information is presented by proponents or opponents.

DeMaio says that they are currently supporting a citizen initiative known as the Taxpayer and Government Accountability Act, which begins the ballot reform process. If approved, the measure would force all tax increases to be disclosed and detailed on the ballot.

“We must get the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act on the ballot, so please sign the petition and share it with your friends, family, and neighbors,” said DeMaio. “It’s a crucial first step in ballot reform, but the fight won’t end there,” he concluded.

DeMaio is urging all Californians to back Reform California’s mission to reform the ballot title process. Join the campaign today and sign the petition to get the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act on the ballot.

Join the Campaign: Make Ballot Titles Honest