Selling ads on sample ballots: revenue-raiser or hucksterism?

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Selling advertising space to offset the cost of printing San Diego County's sample ballots is ''as American as apple pie,'' according to the local registrar of voters. But opponents call the plan a victory for the ''devil of advertising and hucksterism.''

To cut costs, the county board of supervisors recently voted to permit low-key, nonpolitical ads in the voters' information booklet that accompanies the sample ballot.

''Some people think we are degrading the ballot, but I don't buy that,'' says Ray Ortiz, registrar of voters. ''We need to do something to defray the cost and people are willing to pay a tremendous amount of money for these ads.''

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Mr. Ortiz says it cost $440,000 to print the 950,000 ballots for last November's general election. He estimates the ads could raise between $50,000 and $150,000 per election.

They would be restricted to a public service type message, such as ''Remember to Vote,'' with a corporate logo measuring not more than three-by-three inches. No ads for candidates, ballot propositions, liquor, or cigarettes would be accepted.

''These would not be an 'Eat at Joe's' type ad,' says a spokesman for Supervisor Paul Fordem, the former banker who came up with the idea. ''We were looking for a painless way to increase county revenues without increasing taxes.''

The local chapter of the League of Women Voters and the Republican Party have raised questions about the restrictions on the type of ads, but neither group expressed outright opposition.

After approving the plan, which will require state legislative approval, the board also voted to put an advisory measure on the countywide ballot in November so the voters can indicate whether they like the idea.

Registrar Ortiz says he is confident the measure will be approved and the first ads should be ready for the June 1983 sample ballot. He says San Francisco County permits nonprofit organizations to publish messages in the voters' pamphlets, but accepts no money for the ads.

However, the usually liberal Supervisor Roger Hedgecock takes a ''Victorian view'' of the proposal. He says ads will cheapen the voting process, adding that he was appalled when National Geographic magazine began accepting advertisements.

''These institutions of American life have succumbed, in my view, to the devil of advertising and hucksterism.''

This is not the first time innovative ballot techniques have been used by San Diego voters. Last year, a mail-in ballot was issued to determine whether or not the city should finance and build a downtown convention center. Instead of a projected 25 to 30 percent voter turnout, 60.7 percent of the voters responded --and a majority defeated the proposal.

''We saved the city $230,000 on that special election and doubled the turnout ,'' says Registrar Ortiz.

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