California Attorney General adds commenting to ballot initiative site

150 150 Christopher Nelson

Important reforms to how our state’s direct democracy is conducted were signed into law in the fall of 2014 and they are starting to see the light of day in the real world. In one such instance, the Attorney General has added a Public Comment button to their Ballot Initiative website.

It’s a simple interface change, but still part of the comprehensive reforms included in Senate Bill 1253, and a crucial feedback mechanism that allows the Attorney General’s office to accept public comment from voters about proposed ballot measures. This is a historic change that improves voter engagement and allows ballot measure proponents to hear from the public early about the ramifications of a proposal. Proponents are then empowered to make amendments to their measure which was not allowed prior to the passage of SB 1253. 

Better known as the Ballot Initiative Transparency Act (BITA), SB 1253 does much more than add public comment to the AG’s site on ballot initiatives. As we wrote last year:

SB 1253, the Ballot Initiative Transparency Act (BITA) was approved by the State Senate Elections Committee to increase clarity and provide voters more information. The bill was introduced by Senator Darrell Steinberg, who also is the Senate President pro Tem.

California Forward, the League of Women of Voters of California and dozens of others civic groups have been meeting over the past year sharing opinions and ideas for changes in the initiative process.

“Californians like our initiative process, but they tell us often they are confused about what the initiatives mean and who is financially supporting them,” said Lenny Mendonca, co-chair of CA Fwd’s Leadership Council. ” SB 1253 will create clearer initiatives, simpler ballots and better information for California voters.

BITA keeps what voters like most about the process–based on polls and focus groups and those discussion with more than 60 civic groups–while making improvements to the parts they feel work least well.

Mendonca was present when Gov. Brown signed BITA into law and as he said then, it was a proud moment for him and for everyone involved. But getting it passed and signed is only half the battle. Implementation is just as critical and we applaud Attorney General Kamala Harris for getting the ball moving in this respect. Other agencies have also taken early steps to implement BITA including the Secretary of State, Legislative Analysts Office, and both houses within the Legislature.

CA Fwd is working in partnership with California Common Cause and League of Women Voters of California to ensure the other essential portions of the bill are implemented correctly and on time to improve the state’s unique democratic system.


Christopher Nelson

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