Hundreds of thousands of ballots printed in Fresno County use an incorrect ballot label to describe a statewide proposition to suspend the state's greenhouse gas emissions law, election officials confirmed today.
Ballots printed for the county's roughly 380,000 registered voters say Proposition 23 would suspend laws requiring "major polluters" to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That language was thrown out by a Sacramento superior court judge, who ordered several edits to the original language drafted by the attorney general's office, including changing "major polluters" to "major sources of emissions."
The Proposition 23 campaign has demanded that the county "take immediate steps to reprint the ballots remaining to be sent to vote by mail voters as well as ballots to be distributed on election day."
"Fresno County is a county of significant size in California and in a close election, its vote, now tainted by this serious error, could call into question the state results and possibly give rise to an election contest and require a new statewide election on Proposition 23," attorney Colleen C. McAndrews wrote in a letter to the Fresno elections officials.
Fresno County Clerk Victor E. Salazar said officials are aware of the error but it is too late to reprint the ballots. He said officials will send out a press release informing local media and voters of the error and post signs with the correct language at all polling places on Election Day. Nothing more can be done for the roughly 140,000 vote-by-mail ballots containing the incorrect language that have already been issued, he said.
Salazar said election officials received the updated ballot label language from the secretary of state, but that the correction was never made.
"What has happened is that in Fresno County, like many of the counties, we are experiencing a budgetary crisis. As a result, we've lost staffing, so with many more tasks to do and fewer people, this wasn't caught. It was an oversight," he said.
Proposition 23 spokeswoman Anita Mangels said the correction appears to have been made in the Spanish-language description on the sample ballot posted on the county's website, but not the English text.
Attorneys for Proposition 23 have also asked Contra Costa officials to take down a link to a League of Women Voters website that included the incorrect language. UPDATE: The League of Women Voters site has been fixed. The Proposition 23 campaign questioned why the county pointed voters to the guide produced by the League of Women Voters, which has opposed Proposition 23, as opposed to just the Secretary of State Voter Information Guide.
Contra Costa Assistant County Registrar Candy Lopez said the county directs web visitors to a sample ballot that includes the correct language. The League of Women Voters link is included on the bottom of the page, along with links to the secretary of state, the Fair Political Practices Commission and Easy Voter Guide, another site produced by the League of Women Voters.
"We do have a very small link on the bottom of our page, under related sites, all it says is League of Women voters. We don't direct people to it, it's just a related site that we link to," she said.
Mangels said it is unclear whether any other counties are using the wrong or how the printing error might impact the election outcome. Still, she called the situation "very troublesome."
"People deserve and expect that the information that they're given by official government agencies is accurate and many of them use that information to form their opinion about how they vote," she said.
Steve Maviglio, spokesman for the campaign opposing Proposition 23, called the proponents' complaints a "pathetic Hail Mary pass from Texas oil companies trying to salvage the more than $10 million they sunk into this ballot measure,"
"To somehow suggest a website link will tip the balance of an election is ludicrous," he said.
How heavily voters rely on the ballot labels when casting their vote is also up for debate.
"Right or wrong, very few people tend to read these kind of ballot descriptions... I don't see how this by itself will have much difference one way or another," Larry Gerston, a professor of political science at San Jose State University, told the San Jose Mercury News after the ballot language change was ordered."
This pThis post was updated at 11:21 a.m. with a comment from Maviglio.