California's initiative process is an important aspect of our system of lawmaking. Over the years, it has brought about some of the most fundamental changes in our state's governance. We need to do all we can to ensure the integrity of this process and provide voters with information that is accurate and unbiased.
Voters are busy people. There are jobs to work, small businesses to run, meetings to attend and children's activities to go to. While there is more information available than ever, voters don't have the time to wade through all of it before heading to the polls.
For the November elections, there are already five initiatives qualified and 63 initiatives in circulation for signature collection. While not all of them will qualify, it's possible we could see as many as 20 ballot measures on this fall's ballot. It can be overwhelming and, unfortunately, many voters will never get any further with their research than the initiative's official title and summary, the only information about the measure that is included on the actual ballot.
It makes a measure's title and summary critically influential. Ask any expert and most will tell you that the most important factor in determining whether a ballot initiative will pass, other than the money to run the campaign, is how the title and summary are written.
The state needs to ensure that the title and summary of ballot initiatives are written in a manner that is as clear, concise and unbiased as possible. The individual "yes" and "no" campaigns should be left to their own to convince the voters one way or another. But as the arbiter of the election, the state needs to be fair and unbiased in the information it presents.
The California Constitution currently gives the job of writing the titles and summaries to the state attorney general, who shall "give a true and impartial statement of the purpose of the measure" to the voters. Unfortunately, the attorney general is an elected, partisan official that often takes positions on these same ballot initiatives. It's an inherent conflict of interest that dates back decades and includes official titles and summaries written by both Democratic and Republican attorneys general.
This year, I have introduced legislation in the state Senate to change this process. SCA 19 and SB 1269 will turn over the job of writing the official ballot titles and summaries to the state's legislative analyst, an office established by the Legislature that has provided unbiased fiscal and policy advice to the Legislature for more than 70 years and is already charged with drafting a fair and balanced analysis of each and every ballot measure.
This legislation will be heard soon in a Senate committee. This shouldn't be a partisan issue. The soundness of our electoral process is compromised when the ballot title and summary is partial or impossible to understand. While initiatives themselves are inherently political, the ballot titles and summaries should not be. The voters deserve a fair analysis of the issues.
Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, represents the 18th State Senate District.