Bizarre Ballot Wording Gives Transit Tax Victory

Last week, one of the more unlikely referendums hit the ballot. Of course, if you’re from the Charlotte area, you know that voting for anything in the form of a referendum doesn’t mean much anyway, as the city may just override your vote, as they did with the arena. And yes, I know that they put forth a different plan than the one that was voted on, so from a purely technical perspective, it didn’t have to go to vote again. It’s the principle here. I fully understand the idea that what actually happened isn’t what was voted on, and I also fully understand that is why Lynn Wheeler isn’t on the council any more. People actually decided to stand up and say that they cared.

So last week, everyone had a chance to say their piece again, this time in regards to transit. The original 1998 legislation was sold to the citizens, saying that the half-cent sales tax would fund a billion-dollar project to build light rail around the city. In fact, the first leg of that undertaking has become a $462.7 billion boondoggle down South Boulevard, and opponents of the plan are trying to revoke the half-cent sales tax, mostly because as much as 70% of the tax doesn’t go to pay for trains, it goes to buses. Perhaps surprisingly, it made it to the ballot.

Of course, we live in Charlotte, so it’s never quite that easy.

The first fuss came when it was found that someone was paying for the signatures to get the thing on the ballot in the first place. Then there was an uproar when it was found that no one really knew what they were signing. But eventually, all the signatures were counted, and sure enough, we had the chance to make a change. Perhaps even more interestingly, because of yet more delays, the vote came up because the trains hadn’t started to run – that’s been delayed until November 26.

While I’m sure that it will be bandied about for a long time to come, the actual wording on the ballot will be confusing to nearly everyone. Whether it was intentional or not will likely never be known. But since the vote is to repeal the tax, the wording asks if you are voting for repeal or against repeal. Thus, if you are actually against the tax and register the word AGAINST in all capital letters, you are in reality voting not against the tax, but against repealing it. And when all the votes were counted, the repeal effort actually came in well short – some 70% of people decided to keep the tax, which is a higher rate than those who voted for it in the first place!

Is this because of the odd wording? Perhaps. I suspect that we’ll never know. Even if it’s not, the experience gives us the opportunity to learn. Have we really all forgotten how simple things used to be in school when we passed notes?

I mean come on – it couldn’t be that simple, could it? Let’s just try and make it a little bit easier for people to realize just what they are voting for, and then there just won’t be an issue, so we won’t have to worry about whether or not it’s the ballot or not, and we’ll actually know if people want the tax or not. That wouldn’t be so hard, would it?

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