Politics Report: Registrar Rejects Signatures for Election Reform Measure

Michael Vu is registrar of voters for San Diego County. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu has determined there were insufficient signatures to put a measure on the November ballot that sought to force county elections to go to November runoffs no matter how well a candidate does in a primary election.

And it looks like a rather simple legislative mistake is to blame.

What happened: Last year, Assemblyman Todd Gloria passed a bill that basically allowed an initiative like this to happen.

Gloria’s bill had said that such a petition to change the county law would need to be signed by “10 percent of the qualified electors in the county.” That is, 10 percent of all voters, or about 166,000 people. That’s a lot of people! State law normally requires that initiatives collect signatures from 10 percent of voters who voted in the previous election.

The petition had only gathered 103,000 signatures. Supporters assumed they only needed to hit a 67,000-signature threshold.

What’s next: Now Gloria is scrambling to fix the bill retroactively. “We wanted to make sure there’s no false impressions about legislative intent to use the already existing process,” said Nick Serrano, Gloria’s communications director.

He means, basically: We wanted to do it this way, obviously, but if we have to spell it out for you then, OK sure.

The Legislature could vote as soon as Monday on the bill, and then it would be up to the governor to sign.

But it may be too late: Here’s Vu’s memo. He is not going to wait for Gloria’s bill to get through.

SEIU officials were not happy.

“It is the practice of Michael Vu to use the full 30-day review process when he is verifying signatures for initiatives. What is happening here is this appears to be a political move under pressure of the Board of Supervisors. We’re very concerned that the goal is to delay the timeline to block the initiative from appearing on the November ballot,” said David Lagstein, political director of SEIU.

On the one hand: Vu is reading the law by its word. And his reading seems to be legitimate enough to warrant a change of the law that has to go through the Legislature.

On the other hand: It is a remarkable setback to SEIU’s and Democrats’ ongoing effort to gain a greater voice over policy at the county. They want to ensure races move to required runoffs in November because more people vote (and more Democrats vote) then. Were this change in place by the 2020 elections, for instance, it would make it much easier for a Democrat to unseat County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar. And her seat is considered one that could go either way electorally.

There’s an obvious wrestling match for influence at the county going on. It’s a pretty serious claim to allege that the registrar is trying to help one side with an over-energetic compliance with the law.


Interlude: Thank you to Ry Rivard for that scoop. He heard about it and made many of these calls. Andrew Keatts is on vacation. It’s good for his brain. So this week, it is just me. I hear things throughout the week and then try to cram all my reporting about them into two hours of work on a Friday. It’s fun.


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