Tuesday, April 07, 2020

A Grim Picture? Nuts and Bolts of California's Ballot Petition Pinch and $5.5 Billion for Its Stem Cell Research Program

Here is a not-so-hypothetical question: In these days of the coronavirus crisis, is it safe to touch a mailed-in petition to place a $5.5 billion stem cell research proposal on the November ballot?

While some may consider the question dubious, it is in, in fact, a real question for enterprises attempting to win a position on the ballot next fall. And it illustrates the difficulties facing backers of the proposed stem cell ballot measure, which is aimed at saving California's stem cell agency from financial extinction. 


The agency is running out of money and will begin to close its doors next fall unless more cash is coming in.

Lisa Renner wrote yesterday about California's ballot petition pinch for Capitol Weekly, a respected online news service that follows state governmental and political affairs. She said,

"It’s never easy to get initiatives qualified for the ballot, but this year of the COVID-19 pandemic is the worst ever....
"While organizations technically have until April 21 to turn in signatures to qualify for the November ballot, the shutdown effectively means that those that didn’t collect enough signatures by mid-March probably won’t make it. At best they can hope for possibly qualifying for November 2022."
Renner painted a vivid picture of the nuts-and-bolts of the petition business. She quoted Fred Kimball, owner of Kimball Petition Management.
"Kimball is faced with the challenge of confirming the signatures to make sure they are from unique registered voters. In a normal year, he said he has 75-100 people crammed in his office checking signatures. But this year, he has only six workers in house while the rest are looking at petitions from home.
"'I haven’t done this ever,' he said. 'Usually the petitions never leave the site of the office. There’s a lot of trust you put into the workers. It’s very difficult.'
"Some employees have quit because they don’t want to touch papers that have been handled by so many people and thus could be contaminated with the virus. To deal with that concern, Kimball has set a new rule that new signatures pages that come in his office must sit for one week before anyone touches them again. He also requires employees in house to wear masks and gloves."
Kimball's firm is working on the ballot proposals dealing with kidney dialysis and medical negligence. But his comments bear on any proposed initiative. 

In the case of the stem cell measure, it needs 623,212 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot. Backers say they have 915,000 and need another 35,000 in order to account for disqualified signatures. They have launched an ambitious and "unprecedented" effort to circulate petitions via the Internet.

"Proponents usually seek at least 50 percent more than the legal minimum number of signatures to compensate for possible duplicate or otherwise invalid signatures," according to Wikipedia.

Capitol Weekly's Renner also reported on the stay-at-home orders facing county elections officials.

"Most have shut down all offices, requiring initiative supporters to set up appointments to drop off petitions. Much of their staff is also working at home, which sets up the new burden of getting the petitions to employees."
She continued,
"Joseph Holland, the Santa Barbara County clerk, recorder, assessor and registrar of voters, said his office hasn’t even finished certifying the March 3 election and is facing employees out sick and suddenly charged with taking care of their children after schools closed. “We are operating with a skeleton crew,” said Holland, who also serves as president of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials. 
"While his employees are considered essential under the shut-down order, figuring out logistics about where they sit is an issue. They can no longer sit side by side at cubicles as that would violate the 6-foot social distance rule. “It has reduced our capacity by half.” 
"For petition signatures that come in on a single page, the county is able to scan them and electronically send them to employees working at home for validation. But the county is not able to scan petitions that come in booklet form. Those must still be validated by employees at the office, Holland said."
The verification process involves random samples, which can trigger a full check of each signature, slowing the process considerably. There is a possibility that the current legal requirements could be modified, but that change would likely involve the governor and the legislature. 

The campaign for the stem cell measure has set for itself a deadline of this Saturday to finish collection of signatures. 

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:05 AM

    Anyone who would sign an initiative petition is probably a scofflaw -- so beware!

    ReplyDelete