710,924 Signatures for Overturning Senate Map. And Yet...

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Citizens Redistricting Commission

The sole challenge to the work of California's citizen redistricting panel appears to have crossed a significant milestone over the weekend, but still faces some tough odds to actually blocking the use of the panel's work in 2012.

Starting last Thursday and concluding on Sunday, the political team that pushed the referendum against the state Senate districts drawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission turned in 710,924 signatures to elections officials in 57 California counties -- enough, they believe, to place the measure on the November 2012 ballot.

"Hundreds of people worked tirelessly for almost three months to collect these signatures, overcoming great odds and many skeptics," said a written statement from state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel), one of the leading donors to the effort. Democrats released a statement of their own last week panning the effort.

But the referendum will likely need the full amount of time allowed by law for the petition signatures to be verified... a delay that could have serious implications for any further legal challenge to block the use of the citizen commission's Senate map.

And herein lies the point that many politicos were making from the get-go: it takes a lot of money to gather signatures in a hurry. 710,924 signatures and $2.5 million sounds like a lot, but it wasn't enough to fast-track the referendum's qualification.

Campaign manager Dave Gilliard said in an email that he expects elections officials will have to use what's known as the "full count" to verify that the redistricting referendum qualified.

But the ideal route for any measure (either an initiative or a referendum) is qualification after only a "random sample" of signatures. As the Secretary of State's website describes the process:

If the number of valid signatures [tabulated through the random sampling] is greater than 110% of the required number of signatures, the initiative measure is considered qualified without further verification.

With the minimum valid signatures for a referendum being 504,760, the Senate redistricting referendum would need a projected 555,236 valid signatures (110% of the number required) to quickly qualify.

But Gilliard said in an email this afternoon that he believes the final valid signature tally won't be above 520,000 (103% of the required number) and could be as low as 518,000 (103% of the required number). That would mean a full count... and much longer for the final verdict to be rendered.

And here's where we come back to the legal fight.

The original plaintiff, Orange County GOP activist Julie Vandermost, is also the proponent of the referendum. Vandermost's lawsuit, rejected on October 26 by the California Supreme Court, asserted that the existence of a redistricting referendum, under the process laid out by Proposition 11 and Proposition 20, compels the Court to draw interim Senate districts for 2012.

The justices rejected the entire lawsuit without comment, so we can't be sure what part(s) they found most objectionable. But if the timeline for the Court to draw an interim map was tight back then, it now seems almost impossible.

"The first formal use of the new maps occurs on December 30, 2011," wrote attorneys for Secretary of State Debra Bowen in their October legal response to the now defunct lawsuit. That's the date on which candidates can begin declaring their intention to seek elected office in 2012.

Bowen's brief says that a "full count" of the referendum's signatures -- which the campaign now expects will be needed -- could mean final certification for the ballot won't happen until March 17, 2012. That is 78 days after the date by which the law now says candidates will need to know what their districts look like... and only 80 days before the actual June primary.

So does all of this mean what we might think it to mean -- namely, that regardless of whether the Senate redistricting referendum actually qualifies for next November's ballot, the Senate districts used in 2012 will be the ones drawn by the citizens commission?

Referendum campaign manager Gilliard referred comment to Chuck Bell, the attorney representing redistricting referendum proponent/plaintiff Vandermost. As of this writing, Bell hasn't responded yet to the query; but at the time the Supreme Court rejected his client's lawsuit last month, Bell said he expected the issue of interim Court-drawn maps to be revisited once the referendum qualified.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • http://twitter.com/GJGY1B D Watson

    What a pathetic waste of party resources and taxpayer money. Instead of finding and cultivating candidates who might actually win elections running against Democrats, California Republicans are wasting their time on a ballot measure which, even if it qualifies, has zero chance of passing.

    The “Vote No” (or “Vote Yes,” depending on how the ballot measure is finally written) ads practically write themselves:

    “In 2008 and 2010, the voters of California sent a clear message to SACRAMENTO POLITICIANS - ‘We don’t trust you to draw your own districts.’ Now a group of those same SACRAMENTO POLITICIANS wants to throw out the work of the CITIZENS COMMISSION and give the job to an unelected and unaccountable group of JUDGES. Tell the SACRAMENTO POLITICIANS you’ve had enough. Vote NO (or YES) on Proposition XX. Tell them you meant what you said with your votes  in 2008 and 2010. Enough is enough.”