SUPERVISOR WIENER TO PURSUE BALLOT MEASURE REFORM IN SAN FRANCISCO
Proposal, similar to reform measure recently adopted by State Legislature for statewide measures, will improve process by disclosing large donors real time, requiring public dialogue between ballot measure proponents and elected officials, giving proponents more flexibility to amend or withdraw their measure, and making the number of signatures required more stable
San Francisco – Today, Supervisor Scott Wiener requested that the City Attorney begin preparing a charter amendment for the November 2015 ballot to reform San Francisco's ballot measure system to make it more transparent, require better disclosure of donors, encourage more dialogue in crafting ballot measures, reduce significant fluctuations in the number of signatures required, and provide the proponents of ballot measures -- whether residents or elected officials -- with greater flexibility in amending and improving the measures before they go on the ballot. The measure is partly modeled on recent reform legislation adopted by the State Legislature for statewide ballot measures.
The measure will not take any power away from proponents of ballot measures, but rather will provide them with greater ability to decide whether or not to make changes to the measures after public consultation with elected officials and other members of the public.
"Our initiative system is at the heart of San Francisco's democratic process, and it needs to be well-thought-out and transparent," said Supervisor Wiener. "Ballot measures, once passed, typically remain on the books for a very long time, so it's important that they be well-drafted and subject to public feedback. The current system makes it exceedingly hard, and often impossible, for proponents of ballot measures to amend the measures in response to feedback from the public and from elected officials. We need to provide those pursuing ballot measures with the tools to submit and pursue the best drafted proposals. We also need to ensure full transparency with respect to who is providing financial support for ballot measures."
San Francisco's current ballot measure system is remarkably unforgiving to the proponents of ballot measures -- whether residents collecting signatures or elected officials -- once they have submitted their measures to the Department of Elections. They often cannot make any changes to the measures and are left with a decision of pursuing a flawed measure or withdrawing the measure entirely.
Supervisor Wiener will propose giving ballot measure proponents more flexibility -- without taking any power away from them -- including:
- For measures placed on the ballot by four Supervisors or the Mayor, allowing the authors the ability to amend the measures in response to feedback. Currently, once such a measure is filed with the Department of Elections and the deadline to do so has passed, the authors cannot make any amendments and instead have a choice between proceeding or withdrawing the measure. Current law requires that an informational hearing be held on the measure, but without allowing the authors to make amendments in response to feedback at that hearing. Supervisor Wiener will propose that, after the hearing, proponents have a week or two to make amendments in response to feedback.
- Providing a 30 day public interaction and review period, including required public hearings, on initiatives after proponents have filed them and before they collect signatures; also allowing them to amend the measures, if they choose, in response to such feedback.
- Change the formula for calculating the number of signatures required to qualify a measure in order to reduce the significant fluctuations that can occur under the current system. Currently, the number of required signatures is calculated as 5% of the votes cast in the last mayoral election. This formula is arbitrary and results in significant swings, both up and down, making it harder to qualify measures for four years after a high-turnout mayoral race and easier after a low turnout race. Supervisor Wiener will instead explore basing the formula on a percentage of the number of registered voters. The goal would be to make the number of signatures similar to past requirements but more stable over time.
- Allowing proponents of initiatives to withdraw their measures later than the current deadline, so that if proponents are able to work out a resolution short of a ballot measure, they have the flexibility to do so.
- Requiring the Department of Elections to post online, and regularly update, the top 10 donors of committees in support and opposition of an initiative.