Legislative Ruling 1.98 - Changes in the Language of Mail Ballot Measures

January 15, 1998

Ruling

The language of a ballot properly submitted according to Davis Division Bylaw 17 or 35 may not be changed, before the Division is notified that it is impending, except on the unanimous consent of the petitioners, and, after the Division has been notified, may not be changed at all with the exception of the correction of obvious typographical errors.  [Issued January 15, 1998; published in the Call for the March 23, 1998 meeting of the Representative Assembly.]

Background

On 21 November 1997 Professor Quirino Paris petitioned the Committee on Elections, Rules and Jurisdiction pursuant to the provisions of Davis Division Bylaw 71(B)6 asking for a legislative ruling on the conduct of mail ballots. He objected to the conduct of the mail ballot concerning the possible conversion to semesters. In particular, the wording of the ballot question was changed between the time that the Division was notified of an impending ballot and the time at which the ballot was actually circulated to the Division for a vote. Professor Paris requests that a legislative ruling be issued noting that such changes are improper.

Rationale

The Committee on Elections, Rules and Jurisdiction is responsible for the conduct of mail ballots. It acknowledges that, although the change was made in good faith in an attempt to clarify the ballot question consistent with that intended by the petitioners, it nonetheless erred in permitting any change. Petitioners requesting a mail ballot and those submitting written arguments to be circulated with the ballot have a right to expect that the language that they endorsed in their petition and the language to which they reacted in their arguments will in fact be the language used in the ballot when put to the Division for a vote. This is implicit in DD 17 and DD 35, the Bylaws that authorize mail ballots. Otherwise, if a ballot needs the signatures of fifty members of the Division to be placed before it, and those signatures appear on petitions with one language, how can a ballot with a different language be said to have received the requisite signatures, since it is not in fact what the petitioners signed? One might think that there should be discretion to improve style and clarity, but even, as in this case, small changes may make nonsense of ballot arguments that would have made sense under the original language proposed by the ballot petitioners. In legal language, apparently small alterations may at some point have large consequences. The CERJ therefore regrets having permitted the change in this instance and apologizes to the offended parties.