The day after November’s election, I posted on my bets and on the results on a local tax increase referendum. Here’s what I wrote on the local tax increase:

A friend and retired lawyer, Carl Mounteer, and I wrote the ballot argument against a property tax increase in Pacific Grove. The measure, Measure A, needed 66.7% to win. We got 34.95% and so squeaked out a narrow win. My gut told me that we would get 38% but in the last couple of days I revised that downward to 36%. I was close. BTW, a switch of 108 votes would have caused us to lose. Going by the number of pro-A signs and the pro-A mailer I received, I estimate that, if you leave out our time value for writing the ballot argument and writing a local newspaper op/ed and two letters to the editor, we were outspent by over 200 to 1.

One regular commenter, Ken B, asked what a ballot argument is. I’ll get to what it is, what i think of it, and why it matters, shortly.

But first an update. It turns out that there were a number of ballots left to count. So on November 16, the tally stood as follows:
Yes: 5,768 66.10%
No: 2,958 33.90%

There were still ballots left to count and so this was getting us nervous.

Yesterday, here’s how the count stood:
Yes: 5,868 66.05%
No: 3,016 33.95%

So it moved slightly in our favor. The “final” (we’ll see) count is due out today. Our winning would be a great birthday present.

My colleague, Carl, and I were talking about it recently. We had fought a number of these tax increases in the last 5 years and, for the ones that required a 2/3 vote or more, we won all but one. He noted that the one we lost was one where we found out about it too late. So in that case, we didn’t write a ballot argument against it and no one else did either. So we tend to think it matters: if you just point out to people that it’s a tax increase, you get almost an automatic 30% against. Then you work for those last few points with your argument.

For Ken B, who asked what a ballot argument is. He’s a fellow Canadian and so it’s understandable that he didn’t know. I remember being shocked in the fall of 1972, having just moved from Canada to Los Angeles, to see my fellow graduate students at UCLA bring in their big thick ballot arguments and sample ballots. “This is taxpayer-paid propaganda,” I thought, and I still do. But if the government is going to finance propaganda, I want to be in on it. I’ve co-authored at least 4 ballot arguments or rebuttals.

The format is this: The big booklet contains the wording of the item being voted on and sometimes an “objective” analysis by some government official. Then the pro side makes its argument and the con side makes its argument. Then there’s a “rebuttal” to each. I put “rebuttal” in quotation marks, because it rarely is a rebuttal. It’s usually just a restatement of the arguments. When I write rebuttals, it won’t surprise you to know, I actually try to rebut as well as restate the arguments I have room for within the word count.