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Heavy Lifting: San Francisco's Voter Guide is One for the Books

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[Image courtesy of Tumblr user maahlika]

This story by electionlineWeekly's Mindy Moretti originally appeared on May 23, 2012.

It certainly doesn't stack up to David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged or Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, but this fall's voter's guide in San Francisco will certainly help prop open just about any door.

The voter's guide for the 2013 fall election will clock in at more than 500 pages.

The phonebook-sized guide is courtesy of a city law that requires the full text of a referendum, as it was presented during the signature drive, to appear in the voter's guide.

The legal text for the referendum -- regarding the height of a condo project -- includes numerous pages of text from the city's planning commission, board of supervisor meeting testimony and environmental studies.

"If printed with the referendum, this would be San Francisco's largest voter guide," explained Jon Arntz, director of elections for San Francisco.

At the heart of all of this, as is the case with most conflicts, is politics.

When the petition circulators working to collect signatures for the referendum, they were required to carry around a 550-page booklet explaining the project and referendum.

The board of supervisors could have voted to slim down the booklet, which included about 500 pages of an environmental impact statement, but the amendment was not approved.

One of the supervisors opposing the amendment has now proposed an ordinance that would decrease the size of this voter's guide and future voter guides. The proposed ordinance would limit legal text for proposed referendums to 20 pages with the rest appearing online.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu -- who supports the referendum against the development -- has introduced a competing proposal that would limit legal text for proposed referendums to 100 pages.

While the politicians bicker, Arntz is moving ahead with likely possibility that the voter's guide, will indeed, be more than 500 pages long.

Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot that can be done to decrease the size of the guide.

"We already use newsprint for our voter guides so the paper weight cannot be reduced.  If anything we would try to expand the margins to increase the amount of content per page," Arntz said. "Yet, the referendum is comprised mostly of documents from the city's Planning Commission which means that squeezing more content on a page is mostly not possible."

It will cost the city approximately $1.7 million to produce and mail. That's $700,000 more than a typical voter's guide. Arntz said the elections office budget does not currently include the additional money and that they will most likely have to seek a supplemental appropriation from the city's general fund.

Although this year's guide could be the largest ever, the guides aren't typically all that small either.

"This is an issue we face with many elections since our voter guides tend to be large," Arntz said. "Still, we meet with the USPS [U.S. Postal Service] representatives before each election and explain to them what they can expect.  We will also do outreach to the voters indicating that their voter guides were mailed."  

In all of this, there are two saving graces: 1) While all the information must be printed in the voter's guide, it does not need to be on the ballot on election day; and 2) voters have the option of opting out of receiving the guide.

1 Comment


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