FEDERAL COURT AGREES WITH P.U.D. SUPPORTERS:
COURT ORDERS COUNTY TO INSERT DOZENS OF
The U.S. District Court of Oregon late today ruled that the language placed on the ballot for the November 4, 2003, election for the formation of a People’s Utility District (PUD) in Multnomah County was “inherently misleading and hinders the conveyance of accurate information to voters.” Chief Judge Ancer Haggerty found that the language about the tax consequences of Measure 26-52 is “profoundly misleading” and severely impairs the ability of PUD supporters to accurately explain the tax consequences to voters.
The November 3 ballot includes Measure 26-51, which creates a Multnomah County PUD. That measure has no tax consequences at all. The ballot also includes Measure 26-52, which would allow the new PUD, if created to apply a one-time levy of 3 cents percentage $10,000 of property valuation for the purpose of funding a professional engineer’s report on the value of the assets of Portland General Electric Co. (PGE) that the PUD may wish to acquire. State law requires that any PUD formation election include this levy.
The Multnomah County Commission adopted ballot language for these measures, which the U.S. District Court found to be inherently and profoundly misleading. The language states, “This measure may cause property taxes to increase by more than three percent.” In fact, the court’s opinion concluded that “the three percent warning overstates the potential effect of Measure 26-52 by a factor of 10,000.”
The U.S. District Court found that the ballot language violates the rights of PUD petitioners and supporters under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It violates their First Amendment right to communicate accurately with voters and by forcing false information upon voters (a “false warning”). The Court also struck down the Oregon statute (ORS 280.070) in its entirety, because it requires such false warnings to appear on every ballot measure than affects property taxes, whether or not the warning is true or false. The Court found that printing the warning on the ballot also violates the rights of PUD supporters to due process of law by “working a patent and fundamental unfairness on the voters.” The Court stated:
Voters will suffer such an unfairness because the title of Measure 26-52 contains a “warning” that drastically overstates the potential tax consequences of the Measure. . . . Fundamental fairness in elections–a bedrock of our democracy–would be eroded if the state were allowed to require patently false “warnings” to appear on ballot measure titles.