Term limit heat turned on

Secretary of State Deborah Bowen certified today a term limits ballot measure in plenty of time to place it on the Feb. 5 ballot and generate ample controversy.

If voters adopt the measure, called Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act, legislators will be able to spend up to 12 years in either the Senate or Assembly. Today, lawmakers are permitted to serve a maximum of six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.

But before the state could even send out a press release announcing Bowen’s decision, critics from the CA Term Limits Defense Fund shipped out an e-mail calling the certification into question.

Defense Fund spokesman Kevin Spillane contends that the measure’s chief proponents — state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles — exerted political pressure on counties to drive up the results of the random counting process.

The organization is exploring its legal options, Spillane wrote.

“The surprising, suspicious and we have been told, unprecedented, upward revision of the random sample signature count re-submitted by several counties regarding qualification of the initiative to weaken term limits raises serious questions about the integrity of the California elections process,” Spillane wrote.

Here’s what Spillane is referring to: If the random count in each California county failed to produce an adequate percentage of valid signatures, the state would require a full count of the more than 1 million signatures. This time consuming step might not have been completed to meet the deadline to place the measure on the Feb. 5 ballot. (The Legislature isn’t technically restricted to those deadlines but late entries onto the ballot create havoc in local election offices which must follow the election timetable.)

If the measure had been pushed to June, it would hurt incumbents such as Perata and Nunez who had hoped that a positive February decision by voters would allow them to run for re-election to their seats in the June primary.

Spillane also wrote:

“Political pressure has clearly been applied – and succeeded in obtaining the result desired by the two most powerful members of the Legislature. Several meetings and phone calls with local election officials initiated by representatives of the petition gathering firm and the Speaker’s team have been reported by several sources …

“It does not seem coincidental that one of the counties – Alameda – is the home base of Senate President Perata or that another, Contra Costa County, is part of his sphere of political influence. This latest manipulation of the process by the state’s most powerful legislators and their allies taints the qualification of the initiative to weaken term limits. ”

Gale Kaufman, chief strategist for the proponents’ campaign, www.termlimitsreform.com, called Spillane’s allegations unfounded in an e-mail statement of her own.

“As we have seen over the past few days, the signature counts and complexity of the process generated a fair amount of inaccurate information and speculation. Talking about each up-tick or downturn of numbers would only serve to be futile.

“It’s disappointing that opponents to this reform have tried in vain from day one to tar our effort with unfounded allegations. We hope observers will finally begin to see through these cheap stunts as the campaign moves ahead.”

UPDATE: Here’s what Contra Costa County Registar of Voters Steve Weir said happened in his county:

Speaking only for Contra Costa, we made a mistake.

We reported one duplicate in the some 1100 signatures we checked.

Our systen DFM, has a flaw. It has been corrected, but, we did not do that upgrade.

Here’s what happened. We found a name of someone who’s position was generated to be checked. We found that he was NOT registered at the time he signed the petition. However, when we noted that fact on his petition, the system credited it as good. We were not to count it as good. So, the same guy registered and signed the petition later. This space was also idetified as a signature to check.

When we credited it as good, the previous signature showed up as a dupliacate. Actually, the first .sig was not good and a no count. The second one (after which he registered) should have been counted as good.

We know of this problem in our election infornation management system and such duplicates are supposed to be hand checked.

Our vendor has issued a correction and we had not installed it.

I was called and was asked to check. When we did Candy determined that the dup had been reported incorrectly.

No monkey business, we made a mistake and when we looked and found it, we corrected it.

Because of the random nature of petitions, there’s a penalty for duplicates, our mistake may make for political hay, but it was an honest mistake and we needed to correct it.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen