Updates to the March 4, 2003 special election:
Another dirty trick was discovered after the below article was written: The full text of the Measure was not even included in the ballot pamphlet! This meant the voter was forced to rely on the ballot summary, which was extremely deceptive, as described in the article.
The Mercury News made this comment just before the election: "Gonzales aides privately admit that the measure -- which promises to increase security and reduce traffic without raising taxes -- was written so glowingly that nobody would vote against it." [3/2/03, page B1, Mercury News column by Peter Develett]
Results: We lost by about 43% to 57%.
Airport Traffic Congestion Creation and Transit Elimination Act
(Proponents title, Airport Traffic Relief Act).
Akos Szoboszlay, Modern Transit Society
Local politics can be very dirty, and the worst is deceiving the public at the ballot. A ballot measure summary, also called "ballot title,"
was put on the ballot by the City Council which (1) is not impartial, (2) is propaganda for one side and (3) is absolutely false. It claims traffic relief, and the Measure is titled Airport Traffic Relief Act, but the facts prove otherwise. Only Councilmember Ken Yeager voted against the measure.
Currently, airport expansion requires, as approved by the voters, that four traffic improvement projects be within two years of completion. This ballot measure would would effectively eliminate the transit project, the People Mover connection to Light Rail. (It would also delay the three highway projects but they are supposedly within three years of completion.)
Most people assume the ballot summary is written impartially. It is not! The ballot summary was written by the interests behind this measure, and claims traffic relief ... WITHOUT RAISING TAXES [sic]. The majority of people reading this would read no further. Get something for nothing! Why bother to read further? The phase traffic relief is a buzz word to get votes. It matters not that it is completely false. The WITHOUT RAISING TAXES is another buzz, meaning free. While not untrue, it is completely irrelevant to the Measure. Delaying and eliminating projects does not cost anything. Theres money left over. So why put this irrelevant phrase in the ballot summary?
The proponents can say anything they want, no matter how deceiving or untrue, on the ballot summary next to the voting punch hole, while the opponents statement is located elsewhere on the inside.
How can voters make decisions that result in getting value, efficiency, fairness, and other attributes that they deem important, if they are given misinformation on what they are even voting on? Saying anything on the ballot summary, with no resemblance to the fine print of the Measure, just to get votes, is a corruption of the electoral process.
Another claim improve airport security is made, but there is no requirement that a penny of the People Mover money be spent on security. There is no action specified for security at all! By analyzing the Measures wording, the logical deduction is that the People Mover is risky and its elimination would enhance airport security.
While not eliminating the People Mover connection to Light Rail directly, the Measure plays the trick of making it optional instead of required, the current case, and then asks the cash-strapped VTA to pay for it if it is to be built at all (in a separate letter from the Mayor).
Whats astounding is that there is money for the People Mover! Currently, $300 million is earmarked for car parking structures. These structures are, in fact, counterproductive. They encourage auto use. Free market principles can set parking rates to keep parking lots from filling up. Simply put, during busy periods, raise the price, so the lots would rarely fill up. This maximizes revenue for the airport and decreases congestion and pollution.
How much would the People Mover cost? The connection to Light Rail has, unfortunately, been given overblown cost estimates by the Citys consultant. There are several companies manufacturing People Movers, and one of them is in San Jose. This company, Schwager Davis [www.schwagerdavis.com], completed a project in Indianapolis, Indiana at a cost of $28 million/mile (a total of $40 million for the 1.5 mile project). In comparison, the consultants estimate is $200 million/mile (a total of $115 million for 0.6 miles to connect to Light Rail). While actual costs depend on many factors, this indicates that the Citys estimates are overblown. In any case, the cost would be just a fraction of the parking structures' cost.
If unable to eliminate the planned parking structures for political reasons, why not decrease them as much as possible, pay for the People Mover, and have money left over? [Also see: Another way to reduce traffic.]
Another recent ballot summary deception: Measure B
Consider getting junk mail that claims, You've just won $2 Billion. All you have to do is call 1-800-xxx-xxxx to claim your prize. People know that's bogus, by now. But change it to Vote YES to claim your prize, and who would vote NO on that? It's so new, people believe it. Only a few know that the ballot summary is total propaganda by one side.
Measure B on last Novembers ballot, according to the ballot summary, stated essentially that you get something for nothing. Free highways without raising taxes, and the only plausible reason they could be free, logically, is that the Feds or the State is saying, Want this free money? Just vote YES and you've got it. (Their ballot argument actually states [get] projects --all from existing state and federal dollars.)
They deliberately omitted all mention of the fact that the money would come from public transit. The entire purpose of the Measure was the sentence in the full text stating, [State and Federal transportation] funds shall not be used for transit. Thus, the money would be forced to go for highways. The ballot summary omitted what the measure was all about --to prevent State and Federal transportation funds from going to transit, for 34 years.
Instead, the ballot summary mentioned transit in a deceiving way. It had a phrase with transit improvements still funded through the half-cent sales tax, but that had nothing to do with the Measure. That phrase did not affect anything. It served no purpose, other than deception. The phrase was meant to falsely imply that transit would not be harmed by the Measure.
It was. Few voters knew that Measure B was a death blow to some transit projects in the County.* Reading only the ballot summary, they would read EASE TRAFFIC and WITHOUT RAISING TAXES (sic), with no mention at all of what the measure really did. (Analogous buzzes are now used for the Airport Act.**)
Just days after Measure B passed, VTA released a report saying they cannot build all the transit projects that they promised voters (in November, 2000) in exchange for raising the sales tax for 30 years. That is exactly what we said in our ballot arguments. Undoubtedly, few voters read our arguments because the ballot summary stated, essentially, that you get something for nothing. People believe it because the ballot summary is assumed to be impartial instead of what it really is: self-serving propaganda.
Measure B, put on the ballot by the VTA Board itself, is now a contributing factor to VTAs financial problems, along with the economic slowdown. The timing of the reports release by VTA ---so as not to confirm the opponents statements on the ballot argument until just after the election--- is apparent.
(For more information on Measure B from the groups opposing it, see keepchoice.org)
Deception at the voting pin
Consider how advertisers vie for ad space that gets the most results, for example, next to the table of contents in magazines. Similarly, the measures proponents want, and are given, the most valuable place ---next to where the ballot is punched in the ballot booth. For most people, voting is preceded by marking their ballot pamphlet on an identical page --with only the ballot summaries and punching locations visible. The proponents statement --the ballot summary-- is placed here, while the opponents statement is somewhere on the inside, but many voters dont take the time to read further than this ballot summary.
It would be far better NOT to put any ballot summary, rather than the current situation of allowing only the proponents of the measure to say anything they want, no matter how deceiving or untrue, next to this most critical location in terms of getting votes. It is illegal to solicit a vote, circulate petitions, display a sign or campaign for a candidate or issue within 100 feet of a polling place.*** It is astounding, and unfortunate, that the law overlooked the ballot summary, which is within inches of the voting punch hole.
Having only a measure title is not much better. Consider their use of the title, Airport Traffic Relief Act, when it would do the exact opposite --increase traffic.
Whats the solution to ballot summary deception?
You would need two measure titles and two ballot summaries, just as you have two primary ballot arguments and two rebuttal arguments, to maintain fairness. Alternatively, completely eliminating both the measure title and the ballot summary would at least be a fair solution, if possibly confusing.
Ballot measure designation letters would seem to be incorruptible. In the case of Measures A and B in the last election, I believe Measure A was given the A designation because it would be read first. Measure A was very innocuous, giving kudos to the VTA for supplying transit --it really did nothing. Most voters reading the details would get so bored as to refrain from reading the arguments and full text of Measure B, which sounded just as innocuous for anyone reading only the summary.
In 1996, two ballot measures were put on the ballot. It should not be surprising that the one raising taxes was placed after the one listing projects that the taxes would pay for. Years ago, I heard discussion by the Board of Supervisors on what letter designation to give measures.
So, order does matter. How can fairness be assured in ballot letter designations? Randomness . A practical method is to make use of the State lottery. First, put the measures in any order, but make it public, prior to a preselected lottery date. Then, match the first ball to the first measure, the second ball to the second measure, etc., and then reorder the measures according to ascending ball numbers. Jurisdiction ordering (by County, District and City) would still be kept, and if there are more measures than balls, append balls from subsequent lottery dates.
We need to bring basic fairness and honesty back into the local electoral process. While changes need to be made by the State Legislature, until it happens, dont believe ballot summaries. At best, its disinformation by the proponents. Instead, read the ballot arguments. And, somehow, local elected officials need to be sent a message that you wont fall for their disinformation, deception, and outright lying.
Also see: The offical web site of the campaign against the Measure on the March 4, 2003 special election is trafficrelief.org
For Measure B (Nov., 2002), the offical web site is keepchoice.org
* For example, over $400 million from Light Rail projects was transferred to freeway projects as a consequence of the passage of Measure A of 2000 (the sales tax for transit), with the understanding that the sales tax would now fund these transit projects. The sales tax, as is now known, wont fund all the transit projects, but the passage of Measure B of 2002 prevents the State and Federal moneys from going back to transit. Measure B broke the promise made to the voters in Measure A: a set of transit projects in exchange for raising the sales tax for 30 years. While the specific projects axed depend on future VTA actions, there can be no doubt that the loss of funds will ax projects, as admitted to by VTAs own report.
**Dont be surprised by use of analogous buzz words and tactics in both the Airport Act and VTAs Measure B. The special interests behind all Countywide transportation measures since 1984 has been the same: the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group. The Mercury News states that "Carl Guardino [is] head of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group and campaign manager for three [transportation sales tax] measures in Santa Clara County." [12/21/02] They are probably also behind the Airport Act. The Group includes the publishers of the Mercury News, which explains why the Merc has always sided with the Group in editorials. The Group does the campaigning, financing, hires the campaign consultants, writes the ballot measure arguments and, in all likelihood, the ballot summary itself. But they hide their involvement, as best they can, from the public. Elected officials --many receiving campaign contributions from them-- do their bidding by putting the Groups measures on the ballot, and espousing these measures.
***Source: News Release from California Secretary of State at this web link: http://www.ss.ca.gov/executive/press_releases/2002/02-039.htm