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Letter Perfect: Why P is for Parks and Z is for Zoos



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Is it a coincidence when a local ballot measure is assigned the perfect letter to entice voter support?
In Tulare County, that may be the case.

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Politics 101
David Taub
There, voters will be asked to form the Yettem-Seville Community Services District. The ballot designation? Measure Y.
The Yettem-Seville measure is asking voters to create a local water management district of two small communities with a history of water contamination. The county took over the private firm that once served Seveill’s needs.
State election law requires that state measures use numbers, local measures use letters, starting with ‘A’ and go in alphabetical order. It allows clerks to skip a letter to avoid voter confusion with a letter used in previous elections or a letter used in a neighboring county.
But not all election officials follow that path.
Some, like Madera County, do not reset to ‘A’ every election. They follow the last letter from the previous election.
In November, Madera Unified’s bond measure is designated as Measure M. That follows Measure L from the March 2017 ballot.

Y is for Yettem

“Rather than using T through A for the eight (8) measures, we restarted with the letter A, but offered Yettem-Seville the opportunity to use the letter Y.” —Tulare County Registrar Michelle Baldwin
Tulare County follows that path, sometimes. Not this year, county registrar Michelle Baldwin explained.
“The last letter we used in November 2017 was the letter S so the first letter we would have started with would have been T.  Rather than using T through A for the eight (8) measures, we restarted with the letter A, but offered Yettem-Seville the opportunity to use the letter Y,” she said in an email.
Baldwin said that the designation complies with state law.
“We complied with the statute because the letter Y was not used previously.  We then started with the remainder of the measures using the letter A,” she said.

P is for Parks

Is it a coincidence that Measure P in Fresno is about the parks tax? The tax’s main advocate, Fresno for Parks, is already playing off the letter designation:

Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth said she followed state law in assigning letters. Her office received 15 measures from around the county. However, none of the items are county-wide — they are all city or school district measures.
City of Fresno voters have four measures to decide upon:

A — Allowing the city to establish a business license tax on the cannabis industry (which the city council has yet to establish rules).

O — Cleanup language to remove items from the city charter that have been overturned by a court or law.

P — The Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Tax, which seeks to raise the city sales tax by 3/8 of a cent for parks and other programs

Q — Requiring the city council to balance the budget

Orth points to two parts of the state’s election code, 13109(n) and 13116, designating the order of the ballot, and how to use the letter designation.
She also said that within the county, letters are assigned in the order they were filed at her office. The city of Fresno filed Measure A on June 26; and filed measures O, P, and Q on Aug. 10, the last day to get on the ballot.
It should be noted that Orth skipped the letters ‘F’ and ‘I’. She notes that F is generally skipped because it is associated with the word “fail.” Many (but not all) counties skip ‘I’ because it looks too much like the number ‘1.’
It should also be noted that in 2014, a renewal of the bond for Fresno Chaffee Zoo had the Measure Z designation. Orth skipped plenty of letters to make that happen.

How Others Decide       

While the state law doesn’t specifically detail how a county election official assigns letters, one county goes with a random style.
SF Weekly detailed how San Francisco County uses slips of paper picked out of mason jars to decide ballot designations.

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email