Ballot Language

Most voters spend only a few seconds reading a ballot measure once they are in the voting booth before deciding yes or no. A measure that clearly explains the purposes, accountability, and benefits of the measure is much more likely to pass than one that is unclear, or one that emphasizes the costs without explaining the benefits.

Below are contrasting examples of ballot language for winning and losing measures:

Tigard, Oregon, bond measure

2009: Failed 47-53%

“If approved, this measure would authorize the City of Tigard to sell up to $20 million in bonds for costs of capital construction and improvements, including land acquisition and restoration, which would:

Preserve natural areas,
Create and improve community parks, recreational areas and trails,
Protect creeks and streams for improved local water quality, and
Protect streams, fish and wildlife.

The Parks and Recreation Board would provide oversight; proceeds would be audited in City’s yearly audit. Bonds would mature in 21 years or less from issuance and may be issued in one or more series. The estimated additional annual cost to property owners if all $20 million in bonds are sold would be $0.32 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. For the owner of a home with the median assessed value of $200,893, the city estimates that the additional monthly cost would be about $5.41 per month, or $65 per year.”

2010: Passed 58-42%

“Bond to Acquire Open Spaces, Protect Clean Water, Improve Parklands

Question: Shall city issue $17 million general obligation bonds to acquire, preserve and protect open spaces, water quality, habitat, and parks?

If the Bonds are approved, they will be payable from taxes on property or property ownership that are not subject to the limits of Sections II and IIb, Aricle XI of the Oregon Constitution.

Summary: If approved, this measure would authorize the City of Tigard to sell up to $17 million in bonds for land acquisition, restoration, capital construction and improvements allocated as follows:
80% or more to acquire land to preserve open space, parklands, and wildlife habitat, protect streams for improved local water quality to benefit fish and wildlife.
20% or less to create and improve community parks, recreational areas and trails, and
Up to 10% of the total for downtown parkland.

This investment is for the benefit of current and future generations. The Parks and Recreation Board would provide oversight; spending would be audited by the City’s yearly audit. Bonds would mature in 21 years or less from issuance and may be issued in one or more series. The estimated additional annual cost to property owners would be $0.29 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. For a home with the median assessed value of $207,000, the City estimates that the additional monthly cost would be about $4.99 per month, or $60 per year.”

Adams County, Colorado, sales tax measure

1997: Failed 31-69%

SHALL ADAMS COUNTY TAXES BE INCREASED $5,000,000 (FIRST FULL YEAR DOLLAR INCREASE) BY A COUNTYWIDE SALES TAX OF ONE-FIFTH OF ONE PERCENT (ONE FIFTH OF ONE CENT PER DOLLAR) FOR FIFTEEN YEARS (TERMINATING DECEMBER 31, 2013) FOR THE PURPOSE OF ACQUIRING, CONSTRUCTING, EQUIPPING, OPERATING AND MAINTAINING OPEN SPACE AND PARKS AND RECREATION FACILITIES (“THE OPEN SPACE SALES TAX”); AND SHALL ALL OR A PORTION OF THE REVENUES FROM SUCH TAX BE DEPOSITED INTO A SPECIAL FUND TO BE KNOW AS THE “ADAMS COUNTY OPEN SPACE SALES TAX CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT FUND” AND UTILIZED SOLELY TO PROVIDE THE CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS AUTHORIZED IN ADAMS COUNTY RESOLUTION NO. 97-2 OR FOR REPAYMENT OF BONDS; AND SHALL ALL REVENUES FROM SUCH TAX AND ANY EARNINGS ON SUCH REVENUES (REGARDLESS OF AMOUNT) CONSTITUTE A VOTER-APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE; AND SHALL SUCH TAX BE IMPOSED, COLLECTED, ADMINISTERED AND ENFORCED AS PROVIDED IN ADAMS COUNTY RESOLUTION NO. 93-1, AS AMENDED BY ADAMS COUNTY RESOLUTION NO. 97-27.

1999: Passed 59-41%

SHALL ADAMS COUNTY TAXES BE INCREASED BY $5.5 MILLION, AND WHATEVER AMOUNTS RAISED ANNUALLY THEREAFTER BY A COUNTYWIDE SALES TAX OF ONE-FIFTH OF ONE PERCENT (20 CENTS ON A $100 PURCHASE) EFFECTIVE JANUARY 1, 2000 AND AUTOMATICALLY EXPIRING AFTER 7 YEARS, WITH THE PROCEEDS TO BE USED SOLELY TO PRESERVE OPEN SPACE IN ORDER TO LIMIT SPRAWL, TO PRESERVE FARMLAND, TO PROTECT WILDLIFE AREAS, WETLANDS, RIVERS AND STREAMS, AND FOR CREATING IMPROVING AND MAINTAINING PARKS AND RECREATION FACILITIES IN ACCORDANCE WITH RESOLUTION 99-1, WITH ALL EXPENDITURES BASED ON RECOMMENDATIONS OF A CITZEN ADVISORY COMMISSION AND SUBJECT TO ANNUAL INDEPENDENT AUDIT AND SHALL ALL REVENUE FROM SUCH TAX AND ANY EARNINGS THEREON CONSTITUTE A VOTER APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE?

To discuss how The Trust for Public Land Action Fund can help you write successful ballot initiatives, call Linda Orel at 617-371-0526 or email Linda.Orel@tplactionfund.org.