SACRAMENTO — A judge Friday altered the language of California's open-primary ballot measure, handing a defeat to opponents four days before it goes to print.
Proposition 14's detractors filed a lawsuit last week challenging the measure's title and summary, which they called biased and misleading.
But when Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner issued new text Friday, only the measure's supporters seemed pleased.
"We're ecstatic," said Amanda Fulkerson, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 14 campaign. "The new language from the judge states things even more clearly than the old version."
If approved by voters, Proposition 14 would change primaries so the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, would advance to the general election. It will appear on the June ballot.
In his ruling, Sumner tossed out the claim by the Legislative Analyst's Office that the measure won't significantly affect the cost of administering state and local elections. Instead, he inserted text into the ballot arguments stating that "the data are insufficient" to identify any increase or decrease in costs.
Jason Sisney, director of state administration for the office, said it plans to appeal that portion of the ruling before the Monday printing deadline.
Sumner's revised text explains to voters that candidates may choose to omit their political party preference on the primary ballot.
"The judge ruled in our favor in a very open and transparent way," said Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado, Proposition 14's champion in the Legislature. "The sneaky attempt to derail the open primary has failed."
Although lawmakers approved the original ballot language a year ago, they did so only to secure Maldonado's vote for a midyear budget fix that raised taxes.
Proposition 14 has long been unpopular with lawmakers of both parties, who believe it would help moderates and hurt strongly liberal or conservative candidates by opening the door for two candidates from the same party to face off in the general election.
Maldonado and other supporters cried foul last week when they found out about the lawsuit by the California School Employees Union. The news came to them accidentally, through a Web posting, after the Legislature's Democratic leaders had instructed the Legislative Counsel's Office to work with the union to settle the matter quietly.
Lawyers for Maldonado and Gov. Schwarzenegger, who supports Proposition 14, insisted on a court hearing, a move they said paid off Friday.
Lawyers for the California School Employees Union did not return calls Friday.