The county ballot from ALF to Z

October 4, 2012 

What's in a letter? A whole lot if you're asking the public to approve big-money ballot measures.

When Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials got the word that their upcoming bond measure would be designated FF on the November ballot, they felt like parents confronted with a bad report card.

“FF sounds like double fail,” said school board president Ben Allen. “We’re trying to help kids succeed.”

Fortunately, they were able to get the designation changed to ES, evoking “education” and “schools,” much to the relief of those backing the measure.

“It works great,” Allen said. “You want voters to consider these measures on their merits.”

In a busy presidential election year like this one, with 42 local and 11 statewide measures going before Los Angeles County voters, the ballot could, to the uninitiated, resemble a bowl of alphabet soup. But there’s a method to the distribution of letters.

And requests to change the original designations come in all the time.

“We do get requests from all kinds of jurisdictions in the county, and we get very specific requests,” said Alex Olvera, division manager for election information and preparation for the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. “In L.A. County, we always allow jurisdictions to make a 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice.”

“A and B are the most requested,” he said. Some jurisdictions, especially school districts, add a special plea: “Whatever we get, just don’t give us D or F.”

Early planning is helpful. The city of Inglewood, for example, put in its request well in advance to get the letters IT assigned to a 2006 sales tax measure—enabling a successful pitch to “Vote for IT.”

This year, Sierra Madre officials secured a relatively rare three-letter designation, ALF, to go with a measure asking voters to decide whether to allow development of an assisted living facility.

Priority in assigning letters goes to countywide measures. This year, Measure A is an advisory measure that asks voters to consider whether to make the county assessor an appointed position.

Measure B is the so-called Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act, which would require the use of condoms on porn shoots. (And no, county election officials didn’t even consider labeling that one Measure X. That designation is going, instead, to a Pomona measure asking voters to approve a parcel tax to support library services.)

It was the Pomona Unified School District, meanwhile, that drew one of the more regrettable designations for a ballot measure in recent memory.

“We had assigned the measure PU, and it was not endearing to the school district,” Olvera said.

The alternative designation—PS—passed the smell test and was approved by local voters in 2008.

Posted 8/22/12

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