Decision on Ballot Summaries Stalled

Tue, Jan 6 2015 by Neal Hobson

An effort in Woburn, Massachusetts, to help educate area voters on the effects of future ballot measures and referendum questions has hit a snag in the City Council’s Liaison Committee.  Disagreements over the issue of who would write the summaries describing each ballot issue and who would approve that text have put any action on hold for now.

The issue arose after a 2014 local referendum on the adoption of a “Community Preservation Act,” which election officials were not allowed to explain to voters for the sake of neutrality. The measure ultimately failed, but inspired City Clerk William Campbell to push for some method by which voters could be better informed about ballot questions.

Citizens in Charge supports efforts to inform voters about ballot measures. The best process would include a summary written by a government official, but subject to legal challenge by any citizen. It’s best to also allow pro and con statements, and to again provide for any citizen to challenge the decision as to which people get to write the pro/con statements. Some states allow multiple statements on both sides of the issue.

City Clerk Campbell estimates that sending out a mailer with information explaining ballot issues would cost around $10,000. However, ballot issue summaries could easily be made available online or at polling locations, which would bring costs down significantly.

“If there’s a possibility of helping voters make more informed decisions, I wanted to make you aware of it,” Campbell said.

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