It’s true, as Santa Cruz County property owners have been complaining, that the recent rural fire assessment mail ballot process was flawed in several ways.
Each ballot was printed with the voter’s name, so retaliation was possible. Ballots had to be mailed to a county agency that stood to benefit by a majority “yes” vote. The ballots were punch cards, a format discredited by the Florida hanging-chad fiasco. Supporting material urged an affirmative vote, and no dissenting arguments were presented.
Protesters at this week’s meeting of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors recited a litany of shortcomings, arguing that the balloting was illegal and should be thrown out.
But wait — there’s more.
All of these conditions were perfectly legitimate, thanks to the majority of California voters, who enacted Proposition 218 in 1996.
This constitutional amendment, attractively dubbed “The Taxpayers’ Right to Vote Act,” followed in the wake of Proposition 13 and further hamstrung local governments in their efforts to finance the services they are expected to provide.
It placed in the State Constitution the details by which mail balloting must be conducted to increase parcel-by-parcel assessments for specific services — in this case, fire protection. This is different from a tax, which is based on assessed valuation.
The way the balloting is required to be conducted is so unlike what we consider an election that Gail Pellerin, the county’s chief elections official, won’t even call it one. “It’s not an election,” she told us. “It’s an assessment ballot procedure.”
The proposition was enacted into law by 56.4 percent of the voters, most of whom, as usual, likely didn’t make the effort to read the text of the proposed law and had no idea on what they really were voting.
The law itself requires ballots to contain voter signatures. It requires “weighted” balloting, which few election systems can handle — except those that use punch cards.
It makes no provision for a protected chain of ballot custody or an unbiased analysis and pro and con arguments.
It’s the law, and the county is following it. It’s hard to argue with that.
But in the 2008 elections, voters would be smart to read all of the election materials they receive. You never know what future troubles you could avoid.