Secretary Of State
Late word today from the Washington Secretary of State: Referendum 71 -- the measure that would ask voters to reverse legislation granting all the rights of married couples to couples registered as domestic partners -- has "more than the bare minimum" of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, according to preliminary tallies.
The signature verification process on Referendum 71 has been an unusual public spectacle because referendum backers turned in only 137,000 signatures, only 16,000 more than the 121,000 required to qualify. That's not much of a cushion: validity rates of 70 percent for campaigns are common. But the rate for this measure appears to be higher--just barely high enough to qualify.
The Secretary of State's own in-house blog says that, with counting expected to be finished tomorrow, the measure will qualify with less than 1,000 votes to spare. "The final margin is the closest in recent history and undoubtedly one of the closest in state history," state Elections Director Nick Handy is quoted as saying in the blog.
For the referendum's backers (mostly conservative groups that oppose gay rights and same-sex marriage), it's a close call, and perhaps a lesson: if you want to spare yourself heartburn in direct democracy, get more signatures.
The Secretary of State in Washington wants to save some cash -- by limiting the descriptions and financial analyses of initiative and referendum to just one page in state ballot pamphlets. That means even the most complicated measures will have to be explained in 500 words or less. The Everett (Wash.) Herald explains why that's penny-wise, pound-foolish.
At Clinton Confirmation Hearing, a Glimmering of Possibility for Asset Building in Foreign Assistance
As all of Washington-- and indeed, the United States, if not the world-- awaits with anticipation President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration next week, a glimmering of possibility regarding a more prominent role for asset-building strategies was evident in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing yesterday. Giving a nod to toward social development, microfinance, and bottom-up empowerment as key elements of a foreign policy strategy, we can't help but suggest how an asset-building framework would enhance the impact of such strategies.
The new secretary of state and attorney general in Oregon, both Democrats, have been making it clear that they don't care much for ballot initiatives and are going to make it harder to qualify measures for the ballot. They intend to scrutinize initiative filings more closely, and are seeking to enhance penalties for fradulent signature gathering.
Phony signatures have been a part of the political process as long as signatures have been sought by initiative sponsors and candidates. A good validity rate for signatures in an initiative campaign is about 70 percent. But in Arizona this year, several measures had validity rates of 50 percent or lower. That's alarming, and suggests there was widespread fraud.
But there's reason to worry that the elected officials are thinking more about politics than the law. It's noteworthy that the attorney general-elect, John Kroger, hired an attorney who has represented the teachers' union in years of initiative battles with Bill Sizemore, an Oregon activist who, a court recently suggested, is addicted to the filing of initiatives. The state should be careful that it doesn't limit political rights. A new state law already raises the bar considerably for filing petitions, with the signature requirement merely for submitting a petition (as opposed to qualifying it for the ballot) rising from 25 to 1,000 signatures.
The official notice of recall against Gov. Schwarzenegger was filed today with the Secretary of State's office. The governor now has a chance to file his formal response. It will be interesting to see if he files it. By the current rules of the political game, every attack requires a response. But I'm not sure if that's the best strategy right now. If the recall proves to be serious -- and the jury is still very much out on that -- I argue that Schwarzenegger should embrace the recall vote and use a campaign to defeat the recall to win some new political capital. (He's awfully low right now). But he doesn't need an official response to do that. And filing a response that blasts back at the prison guards' union, which is backing the recall, might do little more than get more attention for the recall at a moment when Schwarzenegger needs to focus attention on the budget. It's an interesting call.
Attached to this post is a pdf file of the recall notice.
I'm going to need remedial math work. A correction to my post on basics: I was right about the required number of signatures being 12 percent of the number of votes cast in most recent election. But when I made a mathematical error in calculating that. The correct standard is 1,041,530 signatures, according to the Secretary of State's office. That's still very doable, and likely to be not that much more costly than a ballot initiative. One note: proponents of a recall will want to get at least 1.5 million signatures so they have a cushion. Typically, about 30 percent of signatures are found to be invalid for one reason or another. But with no other measures on the ballot, the recall should be able to qualify for less than $2 per signature -- so the total cost of qualification ought to be less than $3 million.
For more on recall procedures, the secretary of state's handbook is here.
The Secretary of State of Oregon was no fan of an effort to qualify a referendum to reverse the state's domestic partnership law. And the number of valid signatures barely met the requirement. So he went through the signatures and disqualified some 200 signatures that were determined not to match the voter signatures on registration card.
Now the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Secretary of State's actions were lawful. It's a tough call. While signature fraud remains a threat in the petition circulation game, it's a good bet that many or even most of the disqualified signatures were valid. How's that? People's signatures often change over the years. And for that reason, here's some free advice. If you haven't changed your voter registration in the past 5 years, it's a good idea to go in and update it, with a fresh signature. I've observed the counting of absentee ballots in California, and election officials are often checking against voter registration signatures from 30 or 40 years ago. If signatures don't match, the votes don't get counted.
It's two months past the deadline, and still no deal on a new California budget. Midnight Saturday was the Secretary of State's deadline for the legislature and governor to add measures to the November ballot. Some measures would need to be part of a budget compromise. You'd think all sides would spend that time in the Capitol. You'd think wrong. The legislature reconvenes today for a bit of grandstanding and meaningless votes on the budget.
Since our elected leaders seem so unwilling to put in the time in Sacramento and reach a compromise, I offer a modest proposal in Sunday's LA Times: relocate the state government to Monterey.
Today in 'Total Meltdown': Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Ballot Deadlines But Were Afraid to Ask
Sacramento is like the boy who never turns in his homework on time and expects the teacher to not mark him down for it.
California's leaders privately seem to think there's some time and room to manuever to get measures on the ballot that are part of a deal. There really isn't. The deadline for adding measures to a supplemental ballot has already passed. So what about this deadline of midnight tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 16) you may be hearing about? That deadline is generous and aggressive -- it is actually dependent on the legislature and governor waiving various laws and regulations, including a requirement that such ballot pamphlets be put on display for 20 days. And passing measures on Saturday -- such as changes to the state lottery and a new constitutional rainy day fund for the budget -- would put California's counties in a tough spot, almost certainly forcing them to spend more money to prepare balloots. The state is asking a lot from counties, and giving little in return. The legislature has failed to reimburse the counties for costs associated with missing previous deadlines.
In blockbuster democracy, there are always invalid signatures. People don't sign their own names. Forgery by gatherers can be a problem. Sometimes, people's signatures change over time, and no longer match registration cards filed decades ago. Or people mistakenly leave out part of their address, or sign on a petition from the wrong county. Some problems are to be expected. When initiative petition signatures are checked, about 70 percent of signatures will prove to be valid -- if the signature gathering operation was well run.
But in Arizona, the signature gathering efforts for multiple measures appear to have failed to meet that standard. According to the Arizona Republic, three measures appear to be in trouble. Two of them, one involving real estate transfers and another involving conservation, appear to have fallen short. A third, a transportation initiative, had so few valid signatures that it has failed to make the ballot. In random sampling, an estimated 42 percent of the signatures were invalid, suggesting that the people handling the gathering failed to do their job. Arizona's Secretary of State said that this was "among the largest overall invalid rates that I can recall ever seeing from a citizens initiative drive.” The initiative won't be on the ballot.