When Orange County voters go to the polls in November, they'll be deciding some key issues that could significantly change the way county elections are held, and also restrict citizens from making their own changes to the county's government charter.
One referendum question approved by county commissioners Tuesday would allow voters to decide whether all county politicians should have their political party affiliations listed next to their names on the ballot. That referendum was prompted by a petition drive led by Citizens for Informed Elections, a Democrat-backed group that wants county commissioners, now selected in nonpartisan elections, to switch to partisan races.
If it passes, the referendum also would move the next county mayor's election to 2016 and every four years thereafter, to coincide with presidential election years, when turnout is higher. That would end Republican Mayor Teresa Jacobs' current four-year term two years early.
That measure, however, will be accompanied by another proposed amendment that the County Commission already had decided to place on the ballot. It would make county races — including sheriff, election supervisor, clerk, tax collector, property appraiser and comptroller — nonpartisan elections.
Activists gathered more than the 46,000 petition signatures to get their initiative on the ballot — only the second time a petition has attained the difficult goal of qualifying for the ballot. The last time, a paid sick-leave referendum pushed in 2012, commissioners delayed placing it on the ballot — a violation of the county's own charter, according to a court ruling.
The bad feelings about the sick-time initiative echo in the new petition drive, which shares many of the same backers. Much of the debate was repeated Tuesday, when commissioners also voted to place two other amendment questions on the ballot.
Both would make it tougher for citizens to change their charter. They were introduced by Commissioner Fred Brummer, who said Orange County has become a target of petition drives by outside interests.
Dozens of opponents accused commissioners of establishing a separate, more difficult set of rules for citizens. "Those in power are preventing those not in power from being able to petition their government….it's absolutely disgusting," Organize Now executive director Stephanie Porta said.
One of the county measures would prohibit citizen initiatives about employer wages, benefits or hours, effectively killing future petition drives for sick-time or other measures such as a wage-theft law. Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Commissioner Tiffany Moore Russell voted against it.
The other would extend the deadline by which commissioners must place a successful petition-driven initiative on the ballot.
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