Friday, April 24, 2020

Skating Past Deadlines: $5.5 Billion Stem Cell Campaign Silent on Critically Needed Signatures

Backers of a $5.5 billion stem cell research proposal this week dodged past another critical, but self-imposed deadline for placing the measure before California voters. They eliminated it. 

It was the fourth deadline that the campaign has either missed or eliminated. The move came as the campaign itself has noted.
"Time is running out."
The ballot initiative -- if it makes the fall ballot and is approved by voters -- would save the state stem cell agency from financial extinction. Originally funded in 2004 with $3 billion in borrowed state money, the agency is expected to be down to its last $26 million by the end of the day today. Formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency is expected to award $1.0 million this morning for Covid-19 research. 

The campaign is seeking 950,000 signatures of registered voters to qualify its initiative for the ballot. As of early this month, it said it had 915,000 but has remained mum since then on the number of signatures it has gathered. 

Legally, the measure needs 623,212 signatures of registered voters. Typically, however, a high percentage of signatures collected for initiatives are disqualified, sometimes as high as 50 percent. 

State election officials recommend that the signature petitions be submitted to election officials in 58 counties by April 21 to allow officials to perform the time-consuming work of verifying hundreds of thousands of signature. County election offices, however, are hard hit by stay-at-home, Covid-19 restrictions affecting their operations. If the verification work is not completed by June 15, the initiative will not be placed on the ballot. 

The campaign has laid out its changing deadlines on a web page exhorting supporters to engage in an unusual Internet and mail-in petition effort. Earlier this week, after the campaign missed its third deadline, wording on the page was changed to remove a specific date. As of this writing, the latest "deadline"  exhortation said, 
"The campaign must gather the last 35,000 signatures through mail-in submissions ASAP."
On Wednesday, the campaign told the California Stem Cell Report it would be submitting petitions to county officials "in the next two weeks." The campaign did not respond this morning by the time of this writing to questions about the signature-gathering effort. However, one Santa Barbara resident told us that he received a petition packet this morning in standard postal mail from the campaign asking him to sign the petition and return it to the campaign. 

(As this item was being posted, the campaign emailed a response concerning the status of its signature-gathering. However, the statement only repeated what the campaign said days earlier and did not contain any new information.)


  1. Anonymous12:45 PM

    Thank you for your excellent reporting. Three questions: If the counties can't complete the verification process by June 15 -- because of Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns -- will the deadline be extended? Can it be extended? And are all other initiative backers in the same boat?

  2. Good questions regarding the verification process. I have touched on some of them in the past. As you suggest, other initiative backers have many of the same problems, but some have different deadlines and signature requirements. There has been talk of getting the governor or the legislature to do something to relieve the deadline pressure, but almost no public information has surfaced. Another problem is getting the governor's attention. His plate is more than full. Additionally, at some point the mechanical and distribution process imposes a reality that is impossible to avoid. Ballot pamphlets and ballots have to be printed. Each voter is supposed to receive a pamphlet. There are about 19 million voters in California. If more than one voter lives at one address, only one pamphlet has to be delivered to that address. So let's say only 10 million households. That is a lot of pamphlets to mail and deliver.


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