Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tiny typo, big effect on ballot

The Arizona Republic reports:
Early-childhood-education and health programs on next month's ballot could lose millions of dollars if a misplaced decimal point is interpreted technically.

Proposition 203 is built around an 80-cent-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes to pay for the programs. But the ballot language calls for an ".80 cent/pack" tax increase, or 1/100th of what backers say they intended. That's less than 1 cent per pack.

Backers of the First Things First campaign always have promoted it as an 80-cent-per-pack tax increase. Even opponents have agreed it calls for an 80-cent hike. Proponents say a typo is to blame.

"We think it is very clear and voters understand and read that it is an 80 cents tax on tobacco," campaign spokesman Steve Roman said.

The folks in the Secretary of State's Office, who wrote the ballot-format language, agree the increase is 80 cents per pack. To interpret the .80 cents/pack language as 1/100th of the intended amount is a "highly technical" reading of the language, said Kevin Tyne, deputy secretary of state.

The Secretary of State's Office prepares the ballot format, and the Attorney General's Office reviews and approves it before it is sent to the printer.

Tyne said no one picked up on the misplaced decimal point during the drafting and review. Nor was it challenged at the 40 town-hall meetings the office has held around the state to explain the state's ballot propositions.

No one apparently noticed the misplaced decimal point until Tuesday, when a reader called a Republic columnist.
Great moments in government.