Capitol Alert

California vaccine referendum falls short in internal count

Adam Cobarrubio of Stockton, left, with his grandson Andrew Cobarrubio, 9, signs a petition at a booth at the Lodi Grape Festival in Lodi on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. A group had a booth at the festival to garner signatures to qualify a referendum on SB 277, the law requiring schoolchildren to get vaccinated. Andrew is peering into a fish tank filled with 50 goldfish – equal to the number of vaccine injections mandated for children up to age 18.
Adam Cobarrubio of Stockton, left, with his grandson Andrew Cobarrubio, 9, signs a petition at a booth at the Lodi Grape Festival in Lodi on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. A group had a booth at the festival to garner signatures to qualify a referendum on SB 277, the law requiring schoolchildren to get vaccinated. Andrew is peering into a fish tank filled with 50 goldfish – equal to the number of vaccine injections mandated for children up to age 18. rbenton@sacbee.com

A referendum measure to overturn California’s new vaccine mandate will not go before voters, according to a preliminary signature count from proponents.

Adversaries of Senate Bill 277, which requires children without medical exemptions to receive all their shots before enrolling in school, hoped to repeal the law with a ballot referendum. But an internal count from the referendum organizers shows them with about 200,000 signatures, far short of the 365,880 valid signatures they need to suspend the law and place it before voters next year. Initiative experts say advocates should submit far more than the required number to make up for duplicated and invalid signatures. The deadline for submitting signatures was Monday.

The 200,000 figure is contained on a spreadsheet compiled by the campaign’s county organizers, one of whom provided the document to The Sacramento Bee, and does not reflect an official tally. Counties have until next Thursday to send their estimates to the state. If the counties determine proponents have enough signatures, officials with the California secretary of state’s office would conduct a random sampling to determine how many of the submitted signatures are valid.

State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who shepherded SB 277 through the Legislature over intense opposition and faces a separate recall effort, released a statement Wednesday noting that the referendum measure “appears to have fallen short” and lauding the development as “ good news for public health and particularly California’s children.”

“I’m not nervous,” Pan told reporters earlier this week, pointing to polling suggesting a large majority of Californians support the law. “I’m sure the voters of California are not interested in letting a privileged few take away the rights of all Californians to be safe from preventable disease.”

Under the law, school staff will begin checking vaccination records as a prerequisite for kids enrolling in kindergarten or the seventh grade starting in the 2016-2017 academic year.

Former assemblyman and gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly, who led the referendum effort, did not return calls and messages seeking comment. A fellow statewide organizer declined to weigh in before the counties submit their totals.

But Donnelly released a statement on Monday that combined praise for volunteers with an ominous statement that the campaign “was sabotaged from without and within by powerful forces from its very inception,” according to The Associated Press.

365,880The number of valid signatures vaccine opponents need to suspend the law and put it before voters next year

While the campaign deployed paid signature gatherers in the final stretch before the deadline, it was largely a volunteer effort – a tough task given that successful initiative campaigns typically cost millions of dollars.

Organizers in six counties did not submit any signatures by the deadline, according to an initial survey of raw data from the California secretary of state’s office. While the organizers’ spreadsheet contains estimates for large population centers like Orange County, Los Angeles County and Riverside County, they did not have an estimate for 16 counties in addition to the six the secretary of state said did not submit signatures.

Most of those counties are sparsely populated. But even influxes from two large counties not on the campaign’s list – Contra Costa and San Diego – would leave proponents tens of thousands of signatures short. In Contra Costa County, home to about 525,000 registered voters, organizers turned in what they said were 5,700 signatures. San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu, who oversees an electorate of 1.3 million, said organizers stated that they had submitted around 26,000 signatures.

Proponents said they turned in about 12,800 signatures in Sacramento County.

Advocates would need to have “well more than double” what their spreadsheet currently reports to have a realistic hope of qualifying, campaign consultant Gale Kaufman said after reviewing the document.

“Given how many duplicates and invalid signatures are usually part of any initiative submittal,” Kaufman said in an email, “it looks highly unlikely they have submitted anything close to what they need.”

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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