The League of Women Voters of Napa County said they support a recent decision by the Board of Supervisors to keep the names of both pro and con supporters of local measures off ballots, though the chair of the Napa County Republican Committee decried the move. The supervisors on March 28 unanimously approved barring pro and con supporters for local measures from being listed on ballots.

“The complete information about a measure including the supporters and opponents will still be in the information booklets,” said League of Women Voters of Napa County president Bernadette Brooks. “We are ok with this decision.”

County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur argued that adding the additional verbiage would be expensive compared to only having pro and con supporters of local measures published in voter guides sent to residents, likening it to real estate. “The voters’ information guide is very, very cheap real estate, you can print as much as you want, they can get big, they can get small,” he told the supervisors. “Ballot real estate is hugely expensive.”

A new law in California that went into effect in January mandates that pro and con supporters be on all statewide initiatives and measures on ballots, but jurisdictions have the option to bow out regarding their own local elections. Besides the expense of increasing the size of a ballot, supervisors felt that the bigger the ballot, the less people will vote for things further down ballot. “I just wanted to agree with my colleagues that anything we can do to keep the ballot as simple and straightforward as possible and promote voting is what we should be doing,” said Supervisor Joelle Gallagher. “This is a good move.”

Doris Gentry, chair of the Napa County Republican Central Committee and former vice mayor of Napa, said “Shame on Napa County supes” after the decision, suggesting that not all voters read the information guides sent to them about elections that contain the pro and con arguments. “John Tuteur said, ‘this is very expensive real estate,’ referring to that ‘official’ ballot paper that is fed through Napa Dominion counting machines,” she said in an email. “Here is WHY it is needed.

If you only read the Title and then vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ there are really no facts to surround your decision.” Gentry said busy families might not have time to read all the voter information before heading to the booths and there is often unclear wording on ballots.

“The title of the measures (which are written by the state) contain complicated wording that had led to egregious taxation,” she said. “Often titles are written in double speak, with double negatives.”

“To remove the pro and con supporters on the actual ballots is a grave injustice to voters,” Gentry said.

California has a history of confusing ballot measures where a “No” vote really means “Yes,” as in Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in the state in 2008. A study done by the LGBT Mentoring Project found enough voter confusion about the proposition as to affect thousands of voters.

“Polling suggests that half a million people who opposed same-sex marriage mistakenly voted against the proposition. They were confused by the idea that a ‘no’ vote was actually a vote for gay marriage,” wrote David Fleischer, then head of the LGBT Mentoring Project, in 2010.

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