What's at stake:
If the court agrees to entertain the coalition's argument, a hearing will be held early next week. The county counsel will then have to justify Kus’ decision to print a generic anti-tax argument rather than the more relevant argument submitted by the No-on-C coalition.
In an expedited complaint filed on Friday morning, the major opponents of Measure C’s 2022 renewal asked the Fresno County Superior Court to order the Fresno County election clerk to place their opposition argument in the voters guide for this fall’s election.
The No-on-C coalition asked the court to grant them first priority, because they are the only committee officially formed to oppose Measure C’s renewal.
“We are asking the court to do what is necessary and what the registrar should have done: select the ballot argument that best informs voters,” said Luisa Medina, a former Fresno County planning commissioner who is a signatory in the court complaint, at a news conference in front of the county election clerk’s office on Friday.
“We had no other choice, since the registrar (James Kus) has refused to reconsider his decision.”
The voter guide that the coalition is fighting to change, as currently constructed, features an argument against Measure C that was submitted by two members of the California Libertarian party.
The Libertarian party argument hints at attempts by bureaucrats to steal elections and appears on the ballot six other times.
“How much election cheating are you willing to put up with?” the Libertarian ballot argument asks voters.
“Are these public officials corrupt? All of them?…It’s almost like it’s a conspiracy.”
The county’s top election official, James Kus, said he chose the libertarian argument over the entry submitted by the community coalition because his office received the Libertarian’s argument first.
At the press conference, Medina said nowhere in the election code is Kus authorized to make such a decision.
“The Registrar (Kus) abused his discretion when he decided to reject our argument simply because another group submitted theirs to him first,” Medina said.
“In a reasonable exercise of discretion, the registrar should have selected the more specific argument over a more general opposition to all tax increases, one that will already appear multiple times in the voter guide,” she added.
If the court agrees to entertain the coalition’s argument, a hearing will be held early next week. The county counsel will then have to justify Kus’ decision to print a generic anti-tax argument from the California Libertarain party, rather than the more relevant argument submitted by the No-on-C coalition.
The county has until Sept. 9 to submit the final version of the ballot to the printer.
Election clerk stands firm to print anti-tax argument seven times on ballot
This fall, voters are faced with the choice to approve or reject Measure C’s $7 billion transportation spending plan, which was prepared by local political leaders, including Fresno mayor Jerry Dyer.
Citing internal polls that show that Fresno County voters want, first-and-foremost, their neighborhood streets improved, the plan’s proponents want to spend the majority of Measure C’s revenue over the next 30 years to repave local roads.
The plan’s major opponents, which include a union, a former planning commissioner, and an ex-state assemblyman, say that the plan does not do enough to build new sidewalks, improve public transit, or fight climate change.
But when voters decide which side to support this fall, only one side of the Measure C debate will be officially presented on the ballot.
This is because the Fresno county clerk chose to exclude the opposition’s arguments earlier this week, using an unprecedented process that his predecessors say has little legal merit.
Kus said he chose the libertarian’s argument, instead of the opposition campaign, without reading either of the arguments beforehand. He, instead, chose the Libertarians because they submitted their argument to his office first.
Kus justified his decision by saying he didn’t want to consider the merit of the respective arguments or how cogent they were written, or that the Libertarian’s argument already appears six other times on the ballot.
He said that these considerations were outside of his discretion as election clerk.
Former Fresno County election clerks Susan Anderson and Victor Salazar disagree with Kus. They say he should have used his discretion to select the opposition ballot argument that is the most informative and useful to voters.
Even the libertarian’s agree, asking Kus on Wednesday morning if they could withdraw their opposition argument for Measure C so the No-on-C coalition position could go on the ballot, but Kus refused.
Buddy Mendes, Fresno County Supervisor, said that Kus wants to stand firm.
“I think all that matters is if James is sitting on legal ground, that’s where he wants to stay,” Mendes said.
“As long as he did something that’s legal, that’s fine.”