Error Gives Prop. 72 a Brief Victory

Times Staff Writer

A statewide proposition that would have expanded health insurance was unequivocally pronounced dead Wednesday by state elections officials after the measure was briefly resuscitated by a computer error.

Proposition 72, which would have required companies with 50 or more workers to provide health insurance to their employees, narrowly lost on Nov. 2 and had been presumed deceased until Tuesday night.

That was when 17 counties finished counting absentee and provisional ballots, and Secretary of State Kevin Shelley’s office reported the measure suddenly winning for the first time.


The change, which appeared to give the measure a 50.5% victory, heartened advocates of the law, which would have expanded health insurance to another 1 million Californians. But elections officials said the results were due to erroneous data from San Diego County.

“It’s not going to go to ‘yes’ again. It’s not going to change,” said Caren Daniels-Meade, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

The corrected tally that officials reported Wednesday showed Proposition 72 losing by 202,854 votes, with 49.1% of the vote.

It was the closest margin of the 16 statewide measures.

“I think it was a testament to the closeness that one error in one county could make the difference,” said Anthony Wright, the executive director of Health Access California, a Sacramento advocacy group. “The opposition really needed to spend every dollar and use every scare tactic to eke out a victory. Even so, more than 5.5 million Californians voted for health reform, so even if we don’t win, we feel we have some sort of momentum for the future.”

Another backer of the measure, state Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), said advocacy groups and lawmakers were looking to devise another broad legislative effort to expand healthcare coverage.

“We have to recognize that there were some flaws in [the proposition] that really provided us with some bright lines on where we need to provide some comfort to the voters,” Ortiz said.

Top among the issues to be resolved, she said, is how to alleviate financial pressure on employers if they are required to provide workers with insurance.

But Jot Condie, the president of the California Restaurant Assn., which helped lead the campaign against Proposition 72, said the measure’s defeat should block future discussions of mandates for employers.

“However close it was, the people have spoken,” Condie said. “We’ve certainly taken to the approach that this was the right problem, wrong solution. The fact that the wrong solution is disposed of doesn’t necessarily make this issue go away.

“We are prepared to engage in discussions about anything that isn’t an employer mandate,” he said.

Condie said some association members were initially alarmed that the measure might have passed, but that he never thought that was possible.

“We had been watching the returns very closely,” he said. “We knew clearly that there was a reporting error, but those who hadn’t been following the numbers closely certainly were concerned.”

Daniels-Meade said the error was created when vote totals being sent by San Diego were out of sequence, which led to their being attached to the wrong propositions after they reached computers in the Secretary of State’s office.

“When they gave us the automated data stream, they got out of sequence,” she said. “They shifted positions and reported it out of sequence, starting with Proposition 60.”

The numbers were automatically added to the vote tallies on the office’s website ( /00.htm), which reported Tuesday afternoon that Proposition 72 had passed.

But after questions were raised, elections officials removed them that evening. They discovered the problems with San Diego’s report Wednesday morning.

A call to the San Diego registrar of voters’ office was not returned.

The county has been embroiled in a heavily contested mayoral race that is now being contested in the courts.

Daniels-Meade said the election results would be officially certified Dec. 11, after the office receives the last updates from counties on their final vote totals.

“There are no more ballots to be counted,” she said. “It’s not infrequent that we get an erroneous report from a county.

“It has happened several times on election night and it’s always caught,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons we get this official certification.”