There’s a chance that Hastings voters could cast conflicting votes on the Nov. 4 ballot on the issue of fluoridation.
Three ballot issues pertaining to fluoride were discussed as part of a forum on the same topic hosted by the Hastings League of Women Voters Friday at the YWCA of Adams County.
“At the end of this election, if some people don’t read the ballot correctly and educate themselves prior to the election, they could vote inconsistently with their own vote,” said City Attorney Bob Sullivan.
The first issue on the ballot pertaining to fluoride was placed there by the Hastings City Council.
This issue, as written by the League of Nebraska Municipalities, states “Shall the City of Hastings, Nebraska, adopt an ordinance to prohibit the addition of fluoride to the City’s water system?”
A yes vote would prohibit fluoride from the water supply, while a no vote would be a vote against the prohibition of fluoride from the water system.
Hastings City Administrator Joe Patterson explained why the yes means no and no means yes with this vote.
Patterson said the Nebraska Legislature passed LB245 to require cities of more than 1,000 people to fluoridate their water. Therefore, the resolution on the ballot is asking voters to override the legislation — meaning that voters should vote yes to override the legislation if that they do not want fluoride in their water.
“The ballot will have a little explanation off to the side, so hopefully it won’t be too confusing to all of us who step in the ballot booth to try to figure out how we’re going to vote on this thing,” Patterson said.
There is a similar question on the ballot as placed there through petition in which voters also vote yes for no and no for yes.
This ballot issues states, ”Shall the City of Hastings, Nebraska, adopt an ordinance prohibiting the addition of fluorosilicic acid or other fluorine-containing substances to the public water systems?”
Again, yes means to prohibit while no means to not prohibit the uses of these substances.
Adams County Election Commissioner Chris Lewis explained how the petition process worked and the differences between an initiative and a referendum.
With an initiative petition, petition circulators and signers are asking the governing body to initiate an ordinance. Lewis said the opposite is true with a referendum petition when the circulators ask the governing body to repeal a previously adopted ordinance.
“Since it’s a law passed by the Legislature, you’re voting yes to prohibit the addition of fluoride or no to allow the addition of fluoride,” Lewis said. “That’s a little confusing sometimes, but that’s the nature of the process.”
While the ballot language itself is confusing, Sullivan said, even more confusion could be created if people vote in opposing ways on the two similar questions.
Yet another problem could arise with the language of the two questions, along with a third question, that could conflict with the state law.
The third question, as put on the ballot by petition circulators, asks, “Shall the City of Hastings, Nebraska, adopt an ordinance establishing the creation of the Hastings Safe Drinking Water Act?”
“What I can tell you is when the election is over if all three issues on the ballot conflict, then the city is really going to have to roll up our sleeves, look at the language and decide how to craft the local legislation in a fashion that is consistent with state law,” he said.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is the regulatory group over this law. Therefore, Sullivan said, he will have to work with HHS if there are conflicts with the issues.
That is because state law requires that no city ordinance conflict with a state law such as the Nebraska Safe Drinking Water Act.
At this time, Sullivan said, he has not looked at the petitioners’ ballot language closely enough to determine if those issues would conflict with state law.
The fluoridation issue made it to the Hastings ballot after the Nebraska Legislature passed LB245 earlier this year.
Patterson said the law requires cities to fluoridate or vote on overriding the issue by June 1, 2010.
One question Patterson said the city has with this issue is that there is no penalty if the election and/or implementation are not completed by June 1, 2010.
“The good thing about LB245 is that is doesn’t go into effect until after another legislative session, so a lot of these questions may be answered in the next legislative session,” he said.
Until that time, Patterson said, voters just need to become educated on the three ballot issues before the election.