Columbus Voters Continue To Misinterpret Issue 12 Ballot Language
COLUMBUS, Ohio—The voting controversy over a Columbus ballot issue that would allow city council members to meet in executive session behind closed doors continues to generate complaints.
The chair of the City of Columbus’ Charter Review Committee that wrote Issue 12’s ballot language told NBC 4 on Monday he does not believe that voters are confused by the wording on their ballot.
Columbus attorney Larry James dismissed the idea that Issue 12 misleads voters who oppose executive session meetings into casting a ‘yes’ vote.
RAW INTERVIEW: Watch the raw interview with Larry James in the video player above.
VIDEO: Watch the story, as it aired, in the video player below the article.
By approving Issue 12, Columbus voters would agree to change the city charter to allow the Columbus City Council to hold closed-door, executive session meetings in order to discuss real estate deals, lawsuits, collective bargaining, security and personnel matters without public participation. Votes would still be recorded in public.
The ballot language for Issue 12 reads, “Shall Section 8 of the charter of the City of Columbus be amended to permit council or its committees to convene in the same manner as the general law of Ohio pertaining to open meetings of public bodies when discussing issues such as personnel matters, purchase of property, litigation, collective bargaining and security matters, as recommended by the Charter Review Committee?“
“It made sense to me as a voter. It makes sense to me as a lawyer. I don’t know how you could be much more clear,“ James said.
James is not your average voter. A vocal Issue 12 supporter, James described the ballot language as accurate and guaranteed that the majority of Columbus voters will understand what is asked of them.
Asked why Issue 12’s ballot language does not mention “executive session” or “closed-door meetings,“ James replied, “Because it’s much more informative. It goes far. It would be much more confusing if you said to voters we’re going to go into closed door meetings or executive session.“
Asked in a follow-up question how adding “executive session” into the ballot language would be more confusing, James replied, “Well, the question is does that qualify, does it limit it? I don’t know. You’re asking me to get in someone else’s head. I can’t do that.“
Advised that voters had expressed confusion after reading the ballot language, while others misinterpreted its meaning, James challenged NBC 4 to document the confusion.
“I would want to see your clips where you show a person this language and they say they’re confused. I don’t believe it.“
On Monday, NBC 4 approached voters outside Columbus’ North Market to read Issue 12’s ballot language and explain what it was asking them to support.
Of the six voters who agreed to read the language and offer their analysis on Monday, three misinterpreted Issue 12 to be in support of open meetings. The other three voters told NBC 4 they could not understand what they would be supporting if they cast a ‘yes’ vote.
The results were similar to Friday when NBC 4 questioned three voters at the same location, finding two voters who expressed confusion and one voter who misinterpreted Issue 12.
“That’s just poorly written and it’s typical legal jargon,“ said Ammon Anderson of Columbus, who said he could not understand the language without further research.
After reading Issue 12, Columbus voters Charles Thacker and Lauren Tilley expressed support, believing they were supporting open meetings.
“I think general transparency as far as that’s concerned, I think people really do want to know what’s going on,“ Tilley said.
After learning that Issue 12 would allow Columbus City Council to meet in closed, executive sessions, Tilley and Thacker expressed disbelief.
“It’s like a little trick,“ Thacker said.
Katie DeWitt made the same mistake.
“This would mean that the City of Columbus has to meet in an open forum instead of a private forum about these matters listed,“ DeWitt interpreted before being told Issue 12 would have the opposite effect.
James rejected Issue 12 opponents’ charge that Charter Review Committee members and other public officials sought to mislead voters in crafting the ballot language as it appears on the ballot.
“The process of ballot language is an art form. It is not an absolute,“ James said.