Why Prop. 1 foes are getting back in the fight

From left, protestors Carol Patterson, Natalie Conrad and Debi Davis try to engage with people during a “Vote No on Prop. 1” event at the state Capitol on Feb. 1, 2024. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

In summary

Opponents of Proposition 1 withdraw their concession as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mental health ballot measure barely leads. The foes are launching a campaign, similar to one by Newsom’s political action committee, to find and fix rejected ballots.

On March 12 — a week after primary day — opponents of Proposition 1 waved the white flag, conceding that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mental health ballot measure would likely pass.

Today, the anti-Prop. 1 campaign withdrew its concession and revived its efforts. What changed?

For one thing, the vote count tightened: As of late Saturday, Prop. 1 was leading by about 20,000 votes, with 7.5 million ballots counted and some 287,000 left to be tallied, according to the Secretary of State.

And for another, Newsom’s political action committee put out an appeal for volunteers to reach out to Democrats who had their ballots rejected — for mismatched signatures or other reasons — to fix them and get them counted. The training was Sunday.

“Governor Newsom needs you…. The votes are being counted and it is CLOSE. Like, just a couple thousand votes close,” the appeal said.

Prop. 1 opponents called that strategy “sleazy” and “an attempt to manipulate the final vote count by harvesting the votes of only some partisans in certain areas.”

But the foes said they’re launching a similar effort and refocusing their website to help voters confirm their ballots were counted and to assist voters whose ballots were rejected.

“We believe all ballots should be counted,” Paul Simmons, a director of Californians Against Prop. 1, said in a statement. “We know that many Democrats voted against Prop. 1, so the governor’s effort is no slam dunk. If you’re a Republican or independent, we want you to know that your ballot might make the difference in this election. But the governor won’t help you. We will.”

“We don’t know if reviving rejected ballots will change the outcome of this election,” Simmons added, “but if the governor thinks it might, we for damn sure aren’t going to let him have the field to himself.”

The Prop. 1 results would have to get even closer, however, for a recount.

There are no automatic recounts for statewide ballot measures. But a campaign can request one in specific counties — if it’s willing to pay for it. That could be a hurdle for the cash-strapped Prop. 1 opponents if the measure narrowly passes.

There’s another provision in state law that could also come into play: The governor can order a state-funded hand recount of all votes statewide if the official results show a difference between “yes” and “no” votes on a ballot measure of 1,000 votes or less, or 0.00015 percentage points or less. As of the latest vote count, the second threshold is 1,055 votes for Prop. 1.

So if Prop. 1 fails that narrowly, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Newsom uses this provision. Such a recount request would have to come within 36 days of the primary, or mid-April.

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