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David Wolfe

Taxpayers Deserve Election Transparency

[Publisher’s Note – We are pleased to offer this column penned by longtime FR friend David Wolfe.  Wolfe is the Legislative Director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.  We found it “fun” that liberal State Senator Leland Yee is carrying a piece of legislation sponsored by HJTA.  What is it?  Read on! — Flash]

Earlier this year hundreds of Los Angeles County voters filled the Hall of Administration to protest a proposed $280 million/year storm water fee, or “rain tax” as it had become known.  They were angry about the new fee that could, for some, amount to thousands of dollars.  Adding insult to injury, the notice mailed out by the county, which was supposed to advise property owners of their right to protest the proposed fee, was made to look like a community newsletter touting the virtues of clean beaches and streams.

Most who received the notice, and the protest form buried inside, considered it junk mail and threw it away without reading it, unwittingly forfeiting the chance to have their objection counted before the county proceeded with the new levy.   Fortunately Mike Antonovich, a county supervisor who opposed the rain tax from the start, put out the word on the misleading notice, which got talk radio excited about the issue, resulting in a groundswell of public opposition that eventually forced the full county board of supervisors to table the measure.

Sadly, the practice of disguising official notices is not unique to Los Angeles County, and is only one of many shady tactics public agencies employ to tip elections in their favor when the law requires voter approval of new fees.  Here at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association we have received complaints about ballots being unsealed by public employees prior to election day, voters being phoned and confronted by public employees about the way they voted, ballots being disqualified for undisclosed reasons, ballots being counted in secret, and ballots being destroyed to prevent public inspection of the disqualified ballots or a recount.

To remedy these abuses, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has authored Senate Bill 553, sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. The bill restores integrity and voter access for fee ballot elections in numerous ways.

To address the “junk mail” issue, SB 553 requires ballot envelopes to bear the words “OFFICIAL BALLOT ENCLOSED” in large font.  The bill also protects against vote manipulation and shines light on the ballot tallying process.  It requires that ballots be counted in public view at a hearing noticed for that purpose, that ballot envelopes remain sealed until the counting begins, that the ballots be counted by an impartial person such as the County Registrar of voters, and that the ballots be retained as public records for two years after an election.

SB 553 strengthens the provisions of an HJTA sponsored measure, Proposition 218, approved by voters in 1996.  Called “the Right to Vote on Taxes Act,” Proposition 218 gives property owners the right to vote on benefit assessments and on fees like the one proposed in Los Angeles County.  Yee’s bill represents a natural extension of election integrity and transparency reforms that the Legislature enacted for assessment ballots in 2000 and 2001.

Senator Yee has a long history of authoring and supporting legislation to strengthen open meeting laws.  HJTA is proud to partner with him in this latest effort to assure that the People’s business is conducted in public view, that those who will be impacted by new fees receive meaningful notice of their right to vote, and a fair election.