Increasing transparency and public participation in our ballot measure process 

Ballot measures play a critical role in our lawmaking process. Voters set policy on many issues of significance to our city's future, from housing to transportation to civil rights. Whether ballot measures are initiated by residents collecting signatures or by elected officials, our process should produce well-written measures that are vetted by the public through a transparent process.

I recently announced that I am working with our city attorney to draft a ballot measure reform proposal for submission to the voters that will increase transparency and public participation, stabilize wild fluctuations in the number of signatures required and provide backers with tools to improve their measures based on public feedback.

Our proposal is based in significant part on a state-level ballot measure reform law, Senate Bill 1253, which was recently passed by the state Legislature with bipartisan support and endorsements from the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the NAACP and other good-government groups. SB 1253 requires a 30-day public review period after backers of an initiative file their proposal and before they collect signatures. During this period, members of the public can provide feedback to the initiative's backers. The backers then have the ability — but are not required — to make amendments based on that feedback. The public can point out flaws in the measure and suggest improvements, which the backers of the measure then can accept or reject.

SB 1253 also requires real-time posting of the top ten financial supporters of both the yes and no sides of ballot measure campaigns.

San Francisco should follow California's lead here. In that spirit, our proposal includes the following:

-Before collecting signatures for a ballot measure, backers will be required to participate in a public hearing where members of the public, city departments, and elected officials can provide feedback on the measure. After this hearing, backers can choose to amend the measure or make no changes at all. Either way, they can then proceed to collect signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

-Similarly, when four members of the Board of Supervisors or the mayor place a measure on the ballot they will have the ability to amend the measure after a public hearing is held. Currently, a hearing is held on these measures, but even if members of the public point out significant errors, the sponsors cannot make amendments. Instead, they have the terrible choice of either pursuing a flawed measure or withdrawing it entirely.

-The number of signatures required to place an ordinance or policy statement on the ballot will be tied to the number of registered voters in The City, which is the metric required for charter amendments. The current system, by contrast, bases signature requirements on a percentage of the number of votes cast in the last mayoral election, resulting in wild swings, since some mayoral elections are high turnout and others low turnout.

For example, in the past decade, the number of signatures required has increased or decreased by as much as 40 percent between elections. Dramatic increases and decreases in the number of signatures required are arbitrary and unfair. We will not be increasing the number of signatures needed, but rather stabilizing them, since the number of registered voters does not fluctuate nearly as much as the number of voters who participate in mayoral elections.

-Significant funding goes into ballot measure campaigns, pro and con. Our proposal will require real-time posting on a website of the top ten donors for and against ballot measures.

These ideas won't make it any harder to qualify measures for the ballot, but they will increase public participation, provide more and better information to voters, and allow backers of measures every opportunity to craft the best possible proposals. As Common Cause stated when Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1253, the proposal "will give voters the chance to see what initiatives are about early in the process, address flaws if there are problems with the language, and get easy access to information about who is backing the initiatives."

San Franciscans deserve no less.

Scott Wiener is a member of the Board of Supervisors, representing District 8. More information at

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Scott Wiener

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