Budget Reform Measure May Not Qualify Fast Enough for November Ballot

Lauren Steussy

California Forward Action Fund, the political arm of the foundation-funded good government group, has spent years developing the ideas that are part of its budget reform ballot initiative.

Polling for the measure has been strong, and the initiative's backers have gathered enough signatures to qualify.

But judging from signature verification figures from the Secretary of State's office, the California Forward initiative may not qualify for this November's ballot.

The two potential problems are the numbers of signatures, and the time.

California Forward Action Fund had internal debate late in the signature gathering process about whether to go forward with its initiative.

Some on the left sought a compromise with the legislature, or a dropping of the initiative completely, because some of its provisions would restrain spending.

No compromise was reached and the initiative went forward. But the delay slowed the signature gathering -- and the turn-in of signatures.

That may prove costly. The deadline to qualify an initiative for this November's ballot is June 28.

But county clerks don't have to conduct a random sample of the signatures until July 2.

But that's not the only problem for the initiative. It also may lack the number of signatures necessary for rapid qualification.

California Forward Action Fund has said it turned in 1.3 million signatures. The raw count, however, from the counties is 1.241 million signatures.

You might not think that makes a difference, when only 807,000 valid signatures are necessary to qualify.

But if you want to qualify fast, you need to qualify during what is called "the random sample." This is the first, fast part of the process when counties--instead of checking every signature--check only a random sample.

To do that, you need a lot of extra signatures -- so many extra that it becomes obvious even from the random sample that you will qualify.

Right now, for the initiative to qualify at that early, easier stage, it looks pretty tight -- especially given the discrepancy between the number of signatures the organization said it gathered, and the number that the counties have recorded.

if the initiative doesn't qualify on a random sample, it would be subject to a time-consuming full check.

If that's the case, the initiative would have no chance of qualifying in time for 2012. It would qualify instead for the next statewide general election, presumably in 2014.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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