Final Results: 81% of Local Bonds Passed, 68% of Local Taxes Passed

It took over a month to count the provisional ballots, but the results are now in for every one of the 118 local bonds and 171 local tax increases that were voted on by Californians on November 4th. Prior to counting most of the provisional ballots, as reported on November 11th in our editorial “Californians Vote for More Taxes and More Borrowing,” here were the results so far:

November 11th provisional results:
“At last count, of the 118 local bonds, 72 were passed, 15 were defeated, and 31 remain too close to call. Of the 171 local tax proposals, 98 were passed, 45 were defeated, and 28 are still too close to call.”

And here is the impact, five weeks later, with all ballots counted, including provisional ballots:

December 15 final results:
Of the 118 local bonds, 96 were passed, and 22 were defeated. Of the 171 local tax proposals, 117 were passed, and 54 were defeated. Final results: 81% of local bond measures passed; 68% of local tax increases passed.

Put another way, of the 31 local bonds that were too close to call a month ago, 24 passed, and of the 28 local tax increases that were too close to call a month ago, 19 passed. Why is it that 77% of the “too close to call” local bond measures ended up passing, and 68% of the “too close to call” local tax increases ended up passing?

If you examine the bonds that barely passed by the amount to be borrowed, it gets even more interesting. The North Orange County Community College District asked voters to approve a staggering $574 million in borrowing, mostly to perform what, in the light of day, reads as an awful lot of deferred maintenance. It passed by 15 votes. That margin of victory equates to $38.2 million per vote. Who says your vote isn’t worth much?

Provisional ballots matter a lot, apparently, since in close races in California this past November their belated tallies resulted in bond measures passing three out of four times, and tax increases passing two out of three times. So what are “provisional ballots?”

According to California Elections Code 14310, 14311, “registered voters whose voter registration or Vote By Mail status cannot be determined may vote a provisional ballot on Election Day. Provisional voters are voters who typically move to a different residence address within the same county and fail to re-register to vote, or who go to a polling place they are not assigned to and attempt to vote. They may also be voters whose Vote By Mail status cannot be determined.  Provisional voters may vote at polling locations or the Elections Division if they fill out and sign a provisional ballot envelope.”

It would probably be interesting, and futile, to speculate as to the reasons so many people elect to vote with provisional ballots, but one thing appears certain – provisional ballot voters in California favor more taxes and more borrowing. But then again, based on the results prior to counting provisional ballots – ALL Californians still favor more taxes and more borrowing. 81% of the bonds passed, 68% of the taxes passed. So would it be futile to speculate as to whether or not provisional ballots and absentee ballots, along with lack of voter ID requirements at the polling place – and along with the fallibility of electronic voting machines – constitute multiple opportunities for massive voter fraud?

Rather than indulge in futility, one should consider the incentives that might drive corruption. Taxpayers in Orange County are now on the hook for over a half-billion in new borrowing, thanks to the votes of fifteen people. This same school district conned voters into approving $237 million in “capital appreciation bonds” in 2002 – bonds that don’t require annual payments sufficient to reduce the principal, kind of like negative amortization home loans – residents in the North Orange County Community College District now owe more on that bond today than it was worth back in 2002. Taxpayers lose. Who wins?

Whether or not voter fraud exists, and to what extent and in what manner, is a hotly debated topic. But, speaking hypothetically, when all it takes to lay onto taxpayers a half-billion dollars in new borrowing is to sit down in a cozy private setting, a few weeks before an election, and – this is all perfectly legal – “coach” fifteen voters into filling out their absentee ballot a certain way, perhaps it’s time to rethink all voting regulations. Equally significant, perhaps it is time to understand the motivations of public employee unions, whose success is directly tied to the level of taxation and the size of government – an inherent conflict of interests – and to curb their ability to involve themselves in political activity.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

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