Friday, April 17, 2020

$5.5 Billion California Stem Cell Proposal: Campaign Mum on Its Ballot Qualification Numbers

Backers of a $5.5 billion, proposed ballot measure said this morning that they still cannot provide a fresh estimate of the number of voter signatures they have in their effort to save the California stem cell research program from financial extinction.

The campaign faces a self-imposed deadline of Saturday to gather the needed signatures in its initiative petition drive, which was stymied when the coronavirus crisis hit the Golden State.  While the deadline is self-imposed, it reflects the upcoming, tedious and time-consuming pace of signature verification by county election officials, who are additionally hampered by workplace restrictions currently in place.

If county officials have not verified 623,212 signatures of registered voters by June 15, the stem cell initiative will not be placed on the ballot. The campaign has said early this month that it has 915,000 signatures and needs to collect a total of 950,000 by tomorrow. That reflected a slippage from last Saturday on an earlier deadline. 

The excess beyond 623,212 is needed because high percentages of signatures are determined to be invalid in normal petition circulation efforts, sometimes as high as 50 percent.

Responding to questions from the California Stem Cell Report, the campaign released a statement this morning that said, 
"The campaign is receiving petitions in the mail every day, however it takes time to count and verify incoming petitions. 
"While we don’t have an estimate to share, we do know that over the last week website traffic has increased, with more than 10,000 people visiting our signature gathering page....
"The campaign is aiming to give the counties as much time as possible to verify signatures. However, the landscape is changing on a daily basis, and adapting to new challenges during these uncertain times requires nimble decision-making and flexibility."
The state stem cell agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), is running out of the $3 billion it was originally provided in 2004. That was when another ballot initiative created the agency, supporting it with state bond funding. The agency has no other significant source of cash. CIRM could have asked the legislature and the governor for more financial support earlier, but such an effort would have faced a difficult political road. 

Without additional funding, the agency will begin to close its doors next fall. 

Other ballot initiatives are facing the same signature-gathering pressures in California and elsewhere in the country. The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom carried a piece yesterday looking at the issues throughout the United States. It quoted a backer of one initiative effort in California to permit collection of signatures for future initiatives electronically as saying, "It's a killer. We're done."

See here for the exact process of verifying signatures and certifying a measure for the ballot.

Correction: An earlier version of this item incorrectly said that the campaign had said that it had gathered 935,000 signatures. The correct figure is 915,000.

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