Senator Wiener’s Bill To Improve Ballot Measure Transparency Passes The Senate Elections Committee

April 18, 2023

SACRAMENTO – The Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee passed Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) bill SB 532, which improves voter transparency into the financial implications of ballot measures. SB 532 passed 6-1 and heads next to the Appropriations Committee. 

“Seventy-five words is not enough to give voters a complete and accurate understanding of the financial implications of the ballot measures they’re voting on,” said Senator Wiener. “Many ballot measures that decide pivotal funding for housing, schools, and other bedrock social services are decided by very narrow margins. SB 532 delivers reforms that will improve the transparency of our democracy while improving the functioning of basic public services.”

In recent years, the legislature has repeatedly amended state election law to require that the financial impacts of ballot measures be disclosed to voters, not as an independent statement but rather crammed into the 75 word ballot question. 

While well intentioned, these changes present massive — and at times insurmountable — challenges to transit agencies, school districts, cities, counties, hospitals, libraries, and other public entities that are legally required to rely on ballot measures to raise critical funds, especially for infrastructure projects. These local governments often raise funds using complex, tiered tax structures and bond measures, and describing that financial structure can take up all or most of the 75 word ballot label, leaving little to no room to explain how the new taxes or bonds will actually be spent to benefit the local community. Such oversimplified descriptions can also leave voters with the wrong impression of a measure’s financial impact.

SB 532 ​​exempts the financial disclosures required from current law from the 75 word ballot label limit, but still requires those disclosures to be included on the ballot label. Additionally, SB 532 clarifies that bullet points can be used for fiscal disclosures on the ballot label.

SB 532 is sponsored by the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California and the Coalition for Adequate School Housing. It is supported by San Diego Housing Federation, the California State Council of SEIU, and Urban Counties of California.