Martinez v. Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, (2006 WL 2613504, Cal.App. 2 Dist., Sept. 12, 2006), stems from a dispute between Los Angeles (“City”) elections officials and opponents over the language of the ballot title of a city ballot measure that would increase the number of terms a city council member may serve.
The California Court of Appeal ruled that the ballot title language, which stated that the measure would “change Councilmember term limits to three terms,” was adequate, because that language was not false, misleading, or partial to one side.
The Los Angeles City Council (“Council”) voted to place Measure R, which would increase the number of terms a councilmember may serve to three, from the current two, on the November 7, 2006 ballot. The language adopted by the Council stated that the measure would “change Councilmember term limits to three terms.”
Opponents of the measure filed suit in Superior Court, alleging that the language was too vague, and asking that the ballot title specify the measure would “lengthen councilmember term limits to three terms.” The Superior Court agreed, and ordered the language be changed. City officials, including City Clerk Frank Martinez, appealed.
Section 9295 of the California Elections Code mandates that a ballot title must not be false, misleading, or partial to one side, the Court said. “We find nothing in the city council’s original ballot title which is false or misleading. Neither do we find the language of the original heading to be partial,” the Court said.
Councilmembers’ motives in adopting the language are irrelevant, the Court added. “But it is the ballot title’s language which must be impartial, not the claimed motives of the Council.”
To comply with election statutes, the ballot title need not be the most accurate, most comprehensive, or fairest possible. It need only contain words that are neither false, misleading, nor partial, the Court ruled. “The title adopted by the city council meets that standard, and the judiciary is not free to substitute its judgment given its deferential standard of review.”
The Superior Court’s decision was reversed, and the Council’s original ballot title language restored.
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