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Voters deal with confusing ballots in several states

by Christina Sterbenz
Nov 8 2016, 12:34pm

As voters took to the polls to cast their votes Tuesday, some found themselves staring at ballots that defied understanding.

Initiatives in Florida, Utah, and Pennsylvania included wording that was difficult to understand, while the death of a Congressman in Hawaii left voters with an unusual double election to puzzle out.

Florida voters who believed they were voting to support solar power in the state may actually have voted to derail it. A proposed amendment sought to include the right to own or lease solar panels in the state’s constitution, even though Floridians already have that right. But it also would have effectively made solar panels a terrible investment for homeowners.

Utility companies sunk millions of dollars into pushing the amendment, whose wording was so confusing that the Florida Supreme Court only narrowly allowed it to go to a popular vote. Early voters expressed fury and concern over the confusing wording.

Despite the unclear wording, however, voters rejected the amendment.

Misleading wording is also used on a Nebraska’s initiative to abolish the death penalty. In 2015, the state legislature voted to repeal the death penalty, and voting “retain” on Tuesday’s ballot would uphold that decision, replacing capital punishment with life in prison. Conversely, voting “repeal” would make the death penalty an option in the state.

A question on ballots in Pennsylvania reads: “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges, and magisterial district judges be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years?”

According to Philly Mag, the state constitution currently requires judges to retire at 70. So voting for the amendment would actually increase the retirement age by five years.

Hawaii voters in the 1st Congressional District face an odd situation on their ballots: a double election. Rep. Mark Takai died in office in late July, leaving his seat open for a successor to serve out the last two months of his term. That means voters must vote for a candidate to do that, and for a candidate to then assume the office for the next two-year term.

Ten candidates are running in the special election, but only four are on the ballot for the next Congress.