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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced that he has filed suit to remove Proposition 77, the redistricting initiative, from the November 2005 special election ballot. The suit was filed in Sacramento Superior Court and alleges that initiative proponents violated the State Constitution and statutory requirements protecting the integrity of the initiative process by collecting signatures from voters for a substantially different version of the initiative from the one reviewed by the Attorney General, Legislative Analyst and Department of Finance for title and summary and authorized for circulation by the Secretary of State.
“For nearly a century, Californians have relied upon the Attorney General and state fiscal authorities to provide them with an accurate description of proposed initiatives so that they can make informed choices before signing a petition or voting at the polls,” Lockyer said. “By opting to collect signatures on a ballot measure different from the text reviewed and approved by the Attorney General, the proponents violated state law and deceived voters. Allowing access to the ballot for initiative proponents who switch or modify text during the signature gathering phase would defeat existing laws designed to protect the integrity of state elections and would corrupt the people’s initiative process.”
Under California law, substantially unchanged since 1912, initiative proponents are required to obtain an official title and summary from the Attorney General before they can begin gathering signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. The Attorney General’s title and summary is prepared after careful analysis of the entire text of the proposed initiative and is intended to provide voters and petition-signers with a brief and accurate description of the initiative’s chief purposes and points. A fiscal estimate of the proposal is also prepared by the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst.
The title and summary process takes approximately 45 calendar days to complete from the date proponents first submit their initiative to the Attorney General’s Office. Initiative proponents are authorized to make non-substantive edits - such as to correct typographical errors - at any time prior to the completion of the title and summary process. Substantive changes - such as adding or deleting words or provisions - can only be made within the first 15-days after submission of the initiative to the Attorney General. After the 15-day period has elapsed, the proponent must start over by submitting a new initiative if he or she wishes to pursue a substantively different proposal.
The proponents of Proposition 77 first submitted their initiative with the Attorney General on December 7, 2004. They requested and received permission to make a non-substantive change to the initiative - by including additional proponents - on January 28, 2005. Title and summary for the initiative issued on February 3, 2005.
Voters are able to read the title and summary on petitions circulated by signature gathering forms as well as on the Secretary of State’s website. In addition, a copy of the proposed initiative is made available on the Attorney General’s website. Members of the public and the media routinely rely on these websites to review the text of proposed initiatives.
“More than 80 measures have been submitted to my office for review so far this year and all of them are subject to the same rules regarding amendments and proper public disclosure,” Lockyer said. “Only one failed to meet these requirements, and it should be sent back to the starting line.”
In a letter sent to Lockyer on July 1, the Secretary of State’s office disclosed that three weeks earlier, on June 10, it received notice from the redistricting initiative proponents acknowledging that they had circulated a different version from the one submitted to the Attorney General, the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst for title and summary. The letter from the Secretary of State’s office sought advice on whether the Secretary had legal authority to decide which of the two different versions of the initiative should be placed before the voters.
The proponents identified numerous substantive differences between the version of the initiative submitted for title and summary and the version circulated among voters. Among the differences are the elimination of language emphasizing the unique ability of judges to draw competitive districts, altering the method used to identify line-drawers, and modifying assorted deadlines for official action under the initiative’s terms.
“Regardless of whether the error was intentional or not, the use of different initiatives cannot be condoned or tolerated,” Lockyer said. “Permitting proponents to change a measure after issuance of the title and summary would open the door to ‘bait and switch’ tactics. Proponents could submit one version of a measure to the Attorney General to secure a favorable title and summary, but then revise the measure for circulation in response to polling results. Such a precedent would completely undermine the constitutional title and summary process.”
Lockyer noted that more than half a million inquiries have been made on the Attorney General’s website to review the text of a record number of proposed initiatives in the past year. Countless more individuals have accessed the Secretary of State’s website to review titles and summaries describing initiatives scheduled to appear on this November’s ballot. Even today, each person who accesses these websites will discover a different version of the redistricting initiative than the one circulated to voters and also read a title and summary that inaccurately describes the initiative measure actually circulated.