Election Contests Over Two San Mateo County School Bonds Filed Due To Ballot Label Law Violations

‘This case is about the unconstitutional use of public money to win an election’

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Election contests over two San Mateo County school bonds were filed in the Superior Court of San Mateo County last week over misleading and law violating ballot labels.

Last year in San Mateo County, several school bond issues appeared on the 2022 ballot. Amongst them were Measures S and W. Measure S specifically covered the Redwood City Elementary School District to issue $298 million in bonds by repairing and upgrading classrooms and labs, upgrading infrastructure, and making safety/security improvements, levying $24 per $100,000 in assessed value. Measure W was similar, covering the Sequoia Union High School District to issue $591 million in bonds to repair and upgrade the infrastructure and classrooms of local high schools, levying $14 per $100,000 in assessed value.

While both bond issues faced opposition, they both ultimately passed on election day last year. Measure S received 17,895 votes in favor over 11,721 votes against, or 60.4% to 39.6%, with Measure W getting 53,317 votes in favor over 31,340 against, or roughly 63% against 37%.

While in most elections this would be case closed, issues against the ballot labels on the measures were soon brought forth. While school bond ballot labels, which are essentially a condensed version of the ballot title and a summary of the measure, have seen an uptick of challenges since AB 195, a ballot issue information requirement bill, was passed in 2017, few were pushed into election contests.

However, both Measures S and W were quickly challenged, with former CFO and California Watchdogs San Mateo County chapter founder Christopher Robell filing election contests against both measures last week. According to Robell, the ballot labels for both measures violate the law.

Measure S, Measure W ballot label issues

“Bottom line is the ballot label contains things it’s not supposed to have (such as argumentative and prejudicial statements describing speculative benefits) and it doesn’t contain things it is supposed to have (such as the nature of the measure which is a tax),” Robell told the Globe Monday. “Also missing is the maximum interest rate and duration of bonds which are required just like when you take out a mortgage. Truth in lending laws are important as we learned in 2008 recession. Ballot label is essentially a sales pitch that goes unchecked by the registrar. It is their job to make sure that the ballot label is complying with statutes and obviously they are not doing that.”

“This case is about the unconstitutional use of public money to win an election. The orchestrated effort to deceive voters has been denounced by three Civil Grand Juries. Deceptive ballot labels that violate statutes is not fair. The school districts’ proponents and their advisors (polling firms, marketing firms, bond counsel) all work, using taxpayer money, to craft a ballet that will ensure a “yes” vote with complete disregard for the laws. Worst yet, the county registrar ignores their mandatory ministerial duty by not rejecting the ballot labels and instead prints and circulates the dishonest ballots (again, with taxpayer money). So we end up with an unconstitutional, rigged election.

“What we have is a rigged election as a result of deceptive ballot labels with no checks and balances. The will of the voters cannot be determined, and the election must therefore be invalidated.”

Robell also noted that other things, such as the bond duration, were also missing from the measure bond labels.

While San Mateo County officials have not commented on the issue, Sandra Dennehy, a legal advisor, told the Globe that legal challenges against the wording of bond measures and propositions have exploded in recent years.

“It’s not a surprise to see  legal challenges against ballot label wording continuing to come up,” noted Dennehy. “In the last few election cycles, we have seen a lot of challenges to the voter guide descriptions, let alone what goes on the final ballot. There are many things wrong  with ballot labels across the state, but I’m not sure if a successful challenge or two can really change the tide on this. There does need to be better independent review and more accountability on the registrar over these though, and that’s where these challenged might help things.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

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