The Napa County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved barring pro and con supporters for local measures from being printed on ballots.

County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur argued that adding the additional verbiage would be expensive compared to only having the pro and con positions published in voter guides sent to residents, likening it to real estate.

“The voters’ information guide is very, very cheap real estate, you can print as much as you want, they can get big, they can get small,” he told the supervisors. “Ballot real estate is hugely expensive.”

A new law in California that went into effect in January mandates that pro and con supporters be on all statewide initiatives and measures on ballots, but jurisdictions have the option to bow out regarding their own local elections. Napa County did not previously provide pro and con statements on its ballots.

Besides the expense of increasing the size of a ballot, supervisors felt that the bigger the ballot, the less people will vote for things further down ballot.

“I just wanted to agree with my colleagues that anything we can do to keep the ballot as simple and straightforward as possible and promote voting is what we should be doing,” said Supervisor Joelle Gallagher. “This is a good move.”

Doris Gentry, chair of the Napa County Republican Central Committee and former vice mayor of Napa, said “Shame on Napa County supes” after the decision, suggesting that not all voters read the information guides sent to them about elections that contain the pro and con supporters.

“John Tuteur said, ‘this is very expensive real estate,’ referring to that ‘official’ ballot paper that is fed through Napa Dominion counting machines,” she said in an email. “Here is WHY it is needed. If you only read the Title and then vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ there are really no facts to surround your decision.”

“The voters’ information guide is very, very cheap real estate. … Ballot real estate is hugely expensive.”

John Tuteur, Napa County Registrar of Voters

Gentry said busy families might not have time to read all the voter information before heading to the booths and there is often unclear wording on ballots.

“The title of the measures (which are written by the state) contain complicated wording that had led to egregious taxation,” she said. “Often titles are written in double speak, with double negatives.”

“To remove the small paragraph of pro and con supporters on the actual ballots is a grave injustice to voters,” Gentry said.

California has a history of confusing ballot measures where a “No” vote really means “Yes,” as in Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in the state in 2008.

A study done by the LGBT Mentoring Project found enough voter confusion about the proposition as to affect thousands of voters.

“Polling suggests that half a million people who opposed same-sex marriage mistakenly voted against the proposition. They were confused by the idea that a ‘no’ vote was actually a vote for gay marriage,” wrote David Fleischer, then head of the LGBT Mentoring Project, in 2010.

The Democrats of Napa Valley and the League of Women Voters Napa County did not respond to requests for comment on the supervisors’ decision.

Katy St. Clair, Bay City News

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.