By Michele Hanisee, President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.
It is rather disturbing that the statewide ballot initiative called the “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018” will not appear on the November ballot, not because it lacked valid signatures, but because a number of County Registrar of Voters failed to validate signatures by the deadline. That failure has prevented this common sense initiative, which makes widely supported changes to Prop 47 and Prop 57, from appearing on the November 2018 ballot.
To qualify for the November 2018 ballot, 365,880 valid signatures were required. Supporters of the Keeping California Safe Act submitted over 570,000 signatures to Registrars of Voters in counties across the state for verification. To date, six counties have not reported the number of signatures turned in. The remaining counties reported a total number of 565,398 signatures. The next step for each county is to conduct a random sample check to determine what percentage of signatures are valid. The random sample checks which were done revealed that over 75% of signatures turned in were valid. Yet when the deadline for random sample verification arrived, the initiative fell about 19,000 short of the required number of signatures.
What happened? More than 100,000 submitted signatureswere not counted because a total of thirteen Registrars did not conduct the random sample validation process in time. These counties include San Diego, Ventura, Contra Costa and San Joaquin. These four counties alone accounted for more than 95,000 signatures received but not verified by the deadline for the 2018 election.
There is no excuse for that failure, especially when one learns that Registrars in other counties that received large numbers of signatures were able to complete that process in time. These counties include Los Angeles County (more than 176,000 signatures); San Bernardino County (over 36,000 signatures); Riverside County (more than 34,000 signatures); and Fresno County (over 29,000 signatures).
Signature turn-in date cannot be faulted for the failure, as several counties that did validate signatures, received those signatures later than some of the counties that failed to complete the verification process.
With a verification rate above 75%, there is no question that had the thirteen Registrars done their job; the Keeping California Safe Act would have qualified for the 2018 ballot.
The initiative process is a vital tool for voters in California to propose and enact laws that the legislature refuses to consider. If the gatekeepers of the initiative process are county Registrar of Voters, who are tasked with verifying signatures by a deadline, then they must perform that job. It is not a complex job, as demonstrated by the Los Angeles County Registrar’s ability to validate over 176,000 signatures in a matter of days.
It’s not all bad news. The initiative should still qualify for the 2020 election once these thirteen counties eventually turn in their validation numbers. But this should be a wake-up call for the Board of Supervisors in the counties where the failure to timely perform the signature verification process occurred. With many of the largest counties in the state able to accomplish the verification task, the explanations by these other Registrars of why they did not validate signatures in time to qualify the initiative for the November 2018 election will prove, at the very least, to be interesting.