Not enough signatures: Vaccine opponents fall short in ballot effort

Not enough signatures: Vaccine opponents fall short in ballot effort
Vanessa Elliott, holding her son William, joins other opponents of the state's new child vaccination law at a rally outside Santa Monica City Hall on July 3. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Opponents of a new child vaccination law in California have reported that they turned in some 228,000 signatures on petitions for a referendum to overturn the measure, far short of the number needed to qualify it for next year's ballot.

Referendum supporters needed the signatures of 365,880 registered voters by Monday to place the measure before state voters in November 2016.

The referendum was intended to overturn a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in June eliminating personal-belief exemptions that allowed some parents to avoid having their children vaccinated before they entered kindergarten.

The failure of the referendum drive was welcomed by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the author of the bill. "The people of California know that vaccines work and most Californians support requiring vaccination for children to attend public school," he said. "The misguided effort to repeal SB 277, my law to boost vaccination rates, appears to have fallen short. That would be good news for public health and particularly California's children."

Added Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who supported the bill, "California kids and public health win!" she said on Twitter.

Leaders of the referendum drive reported their signature counts when they turned in petitions to local elections authorities across the state, who are doing their own counts to be completed by Oct. 8.

The petitions must contain a statewide total of at least 365,880 signatures before the counties will perform random signature checks to determine whether a sufficient number are those of registered voters.

Interviews with county elections officials found that several, including those in Mendocino and Colusa counties, received petitions Tuesday, past the deadline for them to be included. Some counties, including Inyo and Lassen, reported that no signatures were turned in.

Shannon Kroner, a leader of the referendum drive from Woodland Hills, declined to comment on the low count, saying she would wait for the official tally by the counties.

Los Angeles County officials did their own count and said they received 43,168 signatures for the referendum, which is the largest number of any county, according to tallies provided to other counties.

"Clearly, there is a very large number of people in L.A. County who are not in favor of this unconstitutional vaccine law that strips away a parent's rights to make medical decisions and segregates children," said Kroner, a parent and educational therapist.

The California secretary of state's office is expected to begin posting a running tally of counties' signature counts as they are reported, beginning Wednesday afternoon.