The current coronavirus emergency and the practice of social distancing are likely to put a crimp in gathering signatures to qualify a $5.5 billion stem cell initiative for the November ballot in California.
The situation is already troubling much smaller petition efforts in New York State where state legislative candidates need as few as 500 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
One candidate going door-to-door reported that a resident shouted through a window, “I don’t want to talk to anybody or open the door!”
It was created by voters in 2004 with $3 billion but is running out of money. Other major ballot proposals are also caught in the safety distance pinch.
In California, 623,212 valid signatures are needed to put the $5.5 billion stem cell proposal on the ballot. Backers had hoped to have well over that by the end of April.
Without voter approval of the measure, the state stem cell agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), will go out of business. It was created by voters in 2004 with $3 billion but is running out of money.
Other major ballot proposals are also caught in the safety distance pinch. The include ones dealing with sports betting, dialysis clinics, packaging waste reduction and a measure to modify Prop. 13, the property tax law of 1978.
Whether they are affected in a significant way depends on individual deadlines and how many signatures they have to date. Gathering signatures for a ballot measure is an expensive proposition that requires hiring signature gathering firms that, in turn, hire the “gatherers” to be in places with high pedestrian traffic. The signing process also requires what some persons might regard as less than safe physical distances in supermarket parking lots and other locations. Shoppers may well be more focused on stocking up rather than signing up.
It is not clear that the California governor or other state officials can do anything to deal with the slowdowns in signature gathering.
In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sharply reduced the amount of signatures required for candidates to qualify for the ballot.
In a statement, Cuomo said,
“Public health experts have been clear that one of the most common ways to communicate COVID-19 is through direct person to person contact, and we are doing everything in our immediate power to reduce unnecessary interactions.
“This executive order modifies the election process in a way that both protects public health and ensures the democratic process remains healthy and strong regardless of the ongoing pandemic.”
Any impediments to gathering signatures in California are likely to mean increased expense. In 2018, costs ran as high as $9 a signature.
It is not clear that the California governor or other state officials can do anything to deal with the slowdowns in signature gathering, which affect other efforts besides the stem cell initiative. However, state lawmakers might be able to make an immediate change in state law with a two-thirds vote of both houses and the agreement of the governor.
To make the November ballot, the stem cell initiative campaign must clear the certification process by June 15. The campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ed’s Note: David Jensen is a retired newsman who has followed the affairs of the $3 billion California stem cell agency since 2005 via his blog, the California Stem Cell Report, where this story first appeared. He has published more than 4,000 items on California stem cell matters in the past 15 years.