Will opponents of California’s new transgender law for students K-12 have enough signatures on their petitions to get a referendum blocking the law onto a state ballot?
The law, which will take effect January 1 unless the referendum qualifies, allows transgender students to choose which restrooms and locker rooms they use and which sports they play irrespective of whether they are a boy or girl. The California Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, a Democrat responsible for verifying the signatures, has refused to accept some of the petitions. She is claiming they didn’t get filed on time.
As a result of Bowen’s stance, local critics of the law have filed a lawsuit, contending that roughly 5,000 signatures have been inappropriately denied legitimacy.
The deadline for submitting the petitions fell during the three-day Veterans Day holiday. According to California law, when a deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, the petitions must be turned in early, or submitters must make arrangements for the elections office to receive them. In Tulare County, almost 4,500 signatures were supposed to be delivered by Federal Express, but the delivery agent for Fed-Ex arrived at the elections department in Tulare County and found it had closed early. The agent tried to give the package to someone in the mailroom, but it was refused.
In Mono County, the signatures may be uncounted even though the lawsuit claims that an On-Trac Delivery courier put the petitions in the elections office mailbox on Saturday, at least a full day before the deadline.
Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, said, “We are confident that if every valid signature is counted we will meet the minimum to have it on the ballot. If, however, some valid signatures are not counted, that could very well be the tipping point… We played by the rules. We delivered valid signatures to every county by the due date.”
Bowen and officials in Tulare County would not comment on the legislation. Mono County’s assistant registrar of voters, Linda Romero, emailed, “we have no comment at this time as we have not been notified about the pending litigation.”
505,000 verified signatures of registered voters are needed to qualify the referendum. 620,000 signatures have been submitted; county elections officials have to finish their random sample count of the signatures by Jan. 8. There are three possibilities; the referendum will fail, qualify for the ballot, or the signatures will have to be individually verified.
Scott Lay, an independent political analyst, said that the referendum is in danger of failing to qualify. As of December 20, 79% of those signatures that had been checked had been verified, while 78% is the minimum for passage. However, of the 301,500 signatures left to be counted, 77% need to be verified. This is a problem. The nine counties awaiting verification of their signatures only had a verified signature rate of 73% in the last two initiative verifications.
Thus the uncounted signatures from Tulare County and Mono County could be critical.