Opponents of California’s tough new vaccine law filed petitions Monday seeking to put a referendum on the issue on the November 2016 ballot, but it may be a month before elections officials determine whether the ballot measure qualifies.
Former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who led the largely volunteer effort, issued a statement saying he hopes the law "will go down in infamy," added that the referendum effort was "sabotaged," but did not disclose how many signatures were being turned in by today's deadline.
The measure needs the signatures of 365,000 registered voters to qualify the referendum on a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in June.
"When governments resort to coercion to force what they claim is a 'safe and effective' solution on the public, people should question such policies and remember history," Donnelly said. "Freedom is the most sacred currency of a republic and freedom is what we've all been fighting for on this referendum."
The law eliminates the personal-belief and religious exemptions that parents have used in the past to seek waivers from state vaccination mandates for their children. The measure takes effect for the school year beginning after July 2016 unless the referendum qualifies, which would delay the law until the voters act.
Donnelly said the referendum "was sabotaged from without and within by powerful forces from its very inception, but we never gave up and we never gave in."
Other leaders of the petition drive, including Shannon Kroner of Woodland Hills, said they hope there are enough signatures to qualify the referendum. Kroner was delivering more than 50,000 signatures from Los Angeles County residents to that county's elections office Monday morning and said it was the most signatures of any county in the state.
“This new law takes away a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their children,” said Kroner, a parent and educational therapist. “There are a lot of parents who are very angry about it.”
Numbers from other counties indicate the referendum may fall short. It received 29,199 signatures in Orange County, the county with the second highest tally, officials say. In San Bernardino County, 15,951 signed the petitions, while in San Francisco, only 1,738 signed.
In fact, political data analyst Paul Mitchell predicted the referendum would fall far short based on the numbers from 22 counties compared with two successful ballot measures.
Elections officials in each of the 58 counties now have eight working days to conduct a count of the signatures turned in. If there are at least 365,000, county elections officials will then get 30 working days to complete a random sample verification of signatures and report to the secretary of state whether, based on the sample, it appears there are 365,000 qualified signatures.
However, political experts say that proponents of the referendum actually should submit about 474,000 signatures to be safe.
“The rule of thumb is to anticipate that 30% will not be valid, and to submit at least one-third more than the number required to qualify,” said Charles H. Bell Jr., a political consultant who has overseen other ballot measure drives.
Those waiting to see whether the referendum qualifies include state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the author of SB 277. He predicted that even if the referendum qualifies, voters will not repeal his bill.
“If it turns out it's going on the ballot I am eager to talk to the voters,” Pan said. “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 diseases.”
“If they don’t have the signatures, I think it would be a direct reflection of the fact that Californians want to see their communities safe,” added Pan, a pediatrician.
Pan predicted the same coalition of physicians, nurses and other health groups that supported his bill would come together to fund a campaign to win a referendum vote.
Donnelly's statement stopped short of predicting voters would get to act on the measure. "Whatever the outcome is of the signatures that dozens of dedicated leaders are turning in today at county Registrar of Voter Offices across the state of California, I am proud to have served in this great cause with such great Americans," he said.
In a petition drive in which more than half of the signatures were collected by volunteers, there were glitches along the way.
The campaign’s Facebook page last week said organizers were “very sad to see how many people tore the front page off (petitions) before mailing them in. Those get sent right to the trash, because that invalidates them. Lots of hard work down the drain....”
The organizers also had to warn signature gatherers that only certain people can turn them in to the counties. “…if any are submitted directly or by mail by anyone not designated, they will not be counted.”
The effort has raised about $300,000, which is short of its goal of $750,000.