California ballot initiative campaigns are in the final weeks of their signature drives and face the effects of coronavirus

California is under a shelter-in-place order due to the coronavirus pandemic, but several ballot initiative campaigns are in the final days or weeks of their signature drives. As of March 23, four citizen-initiated measures have qualified to appear on the ballot in November. An additional nine ballot initiative could receive enough signatures to appear on the ballot.

The deadline for signature verification is June 25, 2020. However, the process of verifying signatures can take multiple months. Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) recommends that campaigns file signatures no later than April 21. Campaigns that file signatures after the deadline can still have their proposals appear on the ballot for November 8, 2022.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has directed residents to remain at home, except as needed for food, medicine, and other services deemed essential, due to the pandemic. The California Department of Health has advised that non-essential gatherings be postponed or canceled, and the CDC is recommending that people maintain distance between each other. Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, stated, “We were getting 70,000 signatures a week until a couple of weeks ago, when it almost stopped.” According to Fred Kimball, owner of the signature-gathering firm Kimball Petition Management, “We’re all flying by the seat of our pants. No one has ever seen this.”

Campaigns behind the following nine citizen-initiated measures are seeking a place for their proposals on the general election ballot. Coronavirus, however, could have the effect of limiting the number of signatures that an individual petitioner can collect, especially for campaigns that didn’t launch until January 2020.

* Property Tax Transfers and Exemptions Initiative (#19-0003): The campaign Homeownership for Families and Tax Savings for Seniors filed 1.43 million signatures on March 4. At least 997,139 signatures need to be valid. The ballot measure would change how tax assessments are transferred between properties for eligible homebuyers and address resetting tax assessments to fair market value on inherited properties and when corporations and other entities acquire control of properties. Homeownership for Families and Tax Savings for Seniors, which is associated with the California Association of Realtors, has raised $12.08 million.

* Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education and Local Government Funding Initiative (#19-0008): An earlier version of the citizen-initiated measure has qualified for the ballot, but the campaign Schools and Communities First is seeking to replace the initiative with an amended version. The campaign needs to file at least 997,139 valid signatures. Schools and Communities First has raised $17.13 million. Both versions of the ballot initiative would amend the state constitution to require commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value.

* Consumer Personal Information Law and Agency Initiative (#19-0021): The ballot initiative seeks to expand the provisions of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which was passed in 2018. The campaign Californians for Consumer Privacy raised $3.42 million for this year’s effort. Robin Swanson, a consultant for the campaign, said, “We’re in pretty good shape with the numbers that we have, but are adhering to public health requirements and putting public safety first. Like most ballot measure campaigns out there, we’d always love more signatures, but we’re dealing with a stark new reality while the state is on lockdown.” At least 623,212 valid signatures need to be filed for the ballot measure.

* Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative (#19-0022): Californians for Stem Cell Research, Treatments, and Cures is backing a ballot initiative to issue $5.5 billion in general obligation bonds for the state’s stem cell research institute. Spokesperson Sarah Melbostad said the campaign’s signature drive has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. “In keeping with the governor’s statewide order for non-essential businesses to close and residents to remain at home, we’ve suspended all signature gathering for the time being. … We’re confident that we still have time to qualify and plan to proceed accordingly,” said Melbostad. Proponents have raised $5.28 million. The campaign needs to collect at least 623,212 valid signatures.

* Dialysis Clinic Requirements and Consent to Close Initiative (#19-0025): Californians for Kidney Dialysis Patient Protection, which backed a defeated dialysis-related initiative in 2018, has raised $5.38 million for the new effort. The campaign needs at least 623,212 valid signatures.

* App-Based Drivers Regulations Initiative (#19-0026): With $110.58 million, Protect App-Based Drivers and Services has collected over 1 million signatures, of which 623,212 need to be valid. The campaign has the support of Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Instacart, and Postmates. The ballot measure would consider app-based drivers to be independent contractors and enact several wage and labor policies that would affect app-based drivers and companies. Spokesperson Stacy Wells said, “We were really lucky. We got our signatures in fast and were able to get off the streets in seven weeks.”

* Packaging Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative (#19-0028): The ballot measure would require CalRecycle, in consultation with other agencies, to adopt regulations that reduce the use of product packaging, single-use packaging, and single-use dishes and utensils. The campaign Clean Coasts, Clean Water, Clean Streets has raised $3.26 million. At least 623,212 valid signatures need to be collected.

*Legalize Sports Betting on American Indian Lands Initiative (#19-0029): The Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering, with the support of several tribal governments, has raised $7.5 million for a ballot measure to legalize sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks. The effort to collect 997,139 valid signatures began on January 21, 2020. “We are at nearly 1 million signatures and were on a trajectory to reach our goal well ahead of the deadline before the unprecedented orders around COVID-19,” said Jacob Mejia, a spokesperson for the campaign. He added, “The health and well-being of Californians is foremost. Thus, paid signature-gathering efforts have paused for the time being.”

Additional Reading:
2020 ballot measures
Changes to ballot measure campaigns, procedures, and policies in response to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020