Pot supporters near ballot signatures goal, to challenge criteria | TheUnion.com

Pot supporters near ballot signatures goal, to challenge criteria

Christopher Rosacker
Staff Writer

While many folks will gather with family and open gifts today, members of the Nevada County chapter of Americans for Safe Access will be hitting the streets and parking lots to collect signatures against a Dec. 30 deadline.

Signature gatherers thought they had already reached the requisite 9,131 signatures to prompt a special election for voters to choose between the county's current medical marijuana cultivation ordinance and a version that advocates tout as more conducive to collectives and prescription holders. But local ASA chapter President Patricia Smith said she was told two weeks ago that they need close to 1,000 signatures more to meet the Nevada County clerk recorder's office Monday deadline — a criterion she plans both to meet and contest.

"We have not wavered or changed any of the numbers we presented to the ASA," said Registrar of Voters Greg Diaz in a interview with The Union last week. "The final number is part of the formula equation we gave them when we presented them the information months ago."

The number of needed signatures stems from an interpretation of California Elections Code 9107, which begins with "the number of votes cast within the county for all candidates for governor at the last gubernatorial election." An elections office then multiplies the number by 20 percent, which is the formula used for signature gathering on statewide ballot initiatives.

However, the California secretary of state cedes control of that criterion's determination over to a county for measures confined to its borders, a representative told The Union.

In this case, the county also counts the number of undervotes in the gubernatorial election — an undervote is when a voter participates in an election and, for whatever reason, neglects to cast a vote in a particular race. Undervotes have always been calculated into Nevada County's special election formula, Diaz said.

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"My interpretation is based on intent," he said. "If you have a contest with two selections running and you vote for one, the intent is clear. If you don't fill out that section of the ballot, your intent is that you didn't want to vote for anyone. If you mistakenly vote for two candidates, the intent is not clear."

Smith said the total votes cast for governor by Nevada County residents in 2010 amounted to 45,657, as demonstrated by the final results on Nevada County's website as well as the California Secretary of State's records. When the county's formula is applied to that number, the total of signatures needed would be 9,131 — 792 votes less than the number Diaz said the county elections office provided ASA in July.

Smith said her agency was not given the 9,923-signature criterion until more than a week ago.

"We are challenging their computing methods," Smith said. "Three attorneys have told us we are on real solid legal ground. For future efforts, we need to set the correct precedent for calculating that number."

With about 400 signatures left to gather with only a few days left, Smith said she is optimistic they will get the requisite number of signatures by Dec. 30.

"We've been getting about 250 a day, but that was when we had more helpers, and now everyone is gone for Christmas," Smith said. "I don't know what the next few days will be like."

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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