In an embarrassment for the term limit movement in California and nationally, state elections officials said Wednesday that there will be no term limit initiative on the November ballot.
Backers of the proposed initiative fell several thousand signatures short of the number needed to qualify for the ballot, said Alfie Charles, spokesman for Secretary of State Bill Jones.
Proponents of the campaign for the successful June initiative to encourage limits on congressional terms readily acknowledged that the courts would strike the measure down if voters approved it.
But in the official state voter information guide sent to every registered voter in California before the June election, they also promised there would be "a superior measure, and one that is clearly constitutional . . . on the November ballot."
Adam Bromberg, spokesman for U.S. Term Limits, a Washington-based group promoting term limits across the country, characterized the failure as a minor setback and predicted that the new measure will be on the ballot in June 2000.
"The decision was made to be honest" in the June ballot statement, Bromberg said. "Unfortunately, we said it would be on the November ballot. That was the plan."
After counting a sampling of the signatures, elections officials concluded that the term limit measure received 426,904 valid signatures, short of the 433,269 needed to qualify for November.
They now are required to do an actual count; if there are enough signatures, the measure could be placed on the ballot in two years.
Although voters can limit the terms of state legislators, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot strictly limit congressional terms. Federal courts have also struck down less strict term limit measures, similar to those in the June initiative.
The June term limit measure, narrowly approved by voters, says that legislators and members of Congress should use their power to help pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting congressional terms.
Candidates would also be asked to sign pledges of support for term limits. If they refused, they would be identified in ballot material as having declined to endorse term limits.
The ill-fated November initiative similarly had sought to ask congressional candidates to sign term limit pledges, but dropped specific language requiring that they seek an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
If the measure had made it onto the ballot, it would have been the third time that Californians had voted on congressional term limits. The first measure, approved in 1992, was deemed unconstitutional. Voters approved term limits for state legislators in 1990.
Although Californians will not be voting on term limits again this year, there will be term limit propositions in as many as four other states this November. In all, U.S. Term Limits has helped push at least 50 term limit measures across the country.