To Qualify His New Initiative for the November Ballot, Gov. Brown Faces an Almost Impossibly Tight Deadline


Gov. Jerry Brown’s alliance with the California Federation of Teachers and their creation of a new hybrid tax increase measure means one less such proposal on the November ballot.

If it can get on the ballot.

An initiative seeking a spot on the November ballot must qualify by June 28.

The law sets the qualification deadline at 131 days prior to Election Day.

A lot must happen within the next 105 days.

Details are laid out in the 13 pages and four appendices of the Secretary of State’s Statewide Initiative Guide.

Even a cursory glimpse shows there’s a tough road ahead.

A “heavy lift,” is how Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg describes the arduous process of meeting the deadlines to place the new tax measure on this year’s ballot.

That’s probably a key reason Brown said he will continue to collect signatures on his previous ballot proposal to temporarily increase taxes on the state’s highest earners and increase the sales tax by one-half cent for four years.

He began signature gathering for that measure in mid-January.

Brown’s decision to hedge his bets also testifies to the difficulty of qualifying within such a short time frame.

The Democratic governor’s new proposal is a constitutional amendment. That means 807,615 valid voter signatures are required to qualify.

If the initiative were amending state law, 504,760 signatures would be needed.

After getting a green light from the state, Initiative proponents have up to 150 days to circulate petitions.

But they must have those signatures verified and the initiative qualified at least 131 days before the election.

“Proponents may want to shorten the circulation period in order to ensure that the proposed initiative measure qualifies at least 131 days before the next statewide election,” the Secretary of State’s guide says.

That’s not an issue for Brown and his allies: They only have 105 days before the deadline.
Prior to circulating signature petitions, the measure must receive a title and summary from the Attorney General.

Brown submitted his measure on March 14.

To be sure to meet the June 28 deadline, the Secretary of State suggests September 30, 2011 as the final day to submit a proposed measure for title and summary.

The Attorney General has 15 days to create a title and summary of the measure if an assessment of its fiscal impact isn’t required.

A fiscal analysis is needed on Brown’s new initiative, however.

The Democratic governor’s Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office have 25 days in which to create one – after they receive the final version of the initiative.

The Attorney General then has 15 additional days to complete its title and summary after receiving the fiscal analysis.

It’s unlikely in this case such an analysis would take anywhere near so long since most of the components of the new initiative come from initiatives whose cost impact has already been established.

Working with alacrity, this step in the qualification process was completed during the work week ending March 16.

Assuming hypothetically that is the case, the Secretary of State, upon receipt of the initiative, certifies that signatures can be collected.

That leaves 15 weeks until the June 28 deadline.

But signatures must be verified.

And that takes time.

Once the completed signature petitions are submitted to California’s 58 local registrars of voters an eight working-day clock begins running, during which the registrars complete a “raw count.”

A raw count is simply tallying the number of signatures submitted by proponents.

If there aren’t at least 807,615 signatures, valid or otherwise, game over.  

If the numeric total is 100 percent or more of what’s needed, a random sample is conducted for which registrars are allowed 30 days.

Registrars must either verify 500 signatures or 3 percent of the total signatures filed in their county, whichever is greater. Counties that receive less than 500 petition signatures must verify all of them.

Once the random sample is completed, if the number of valid signatures is 110 percent more than needed, the initiative qualifies. If the tally is 95 percent or less, the initiative fails.

Any total in between requires a full check, which is exactly what the name implies. Registrars have 30 working days to complete that.

Obviously, the fastest way to qualify an initiative is to collect at least 110 percent of the valid signatures needed as determined through random sampling.

Success at random sampling requires collecting more signatures than necessary.

In Brown’s case, to be safe, more than 1 million signatures should be collected and 1.2 million would be even better.

Whether the local registrar needs the full eight working days for a raw count and the full 30 working days for a random sample can’t be predicted.

“It varies depending on the workload of the individual counties,” said Shannan Velayas, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office. “We’ve seen where they finish in less time and when they’ve required the full amount of time.”

Allowing for a full 38 working days prior to the June 28 drop-dead date would require signature petitions to be submitted to counties no later than Monday May 7.

That would mean more than 1 million signatures would need to be collected in some 44 days, assuming the title and summary is completed by March 23.

That’s at least 22,727 signatures per day and over 159,000 signatures every seven days. 


Filed under: Governor, Politics

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