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The Hermosa Beach Historical Society and Museum hosted its biggest gala fundraiser on Aug. 27, at St. Cross Church. The event raised $60,000 for the non-profit. Pictured at the event is State Senator Ben Allen. (photo by Michael Hixon)
The Hermosa Beach Historical Society and Museum hosted its biggest gala fundraiser on Aug. 27, at St. Cross Church. The event raised $60,000 for the non-profit. Pictured at the event is State Senator Ben Allen. (photo by Michael Hixon)
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group, writing on local, state and national issues. She is a member of the executive board of the nonpartisan civic organization Valley VOTE in the San Fernando Valley and serves on the board of directors of the Canoga Park/West Hills Chamber of Commerce. A former candidate for the state Assembly, Susan speaks often to schools, clubs and organizations about California politics and policies.

The defenders of “Our Democracy” are at it again.

Last September, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature filed a lawsuit seeking to have a qualified initiative, the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act, removed from the November ballot before voters can pass it.

Now there’s another attack on Californians’ constitutional powers of direct democracy: a proposed law that would effectively shield county election officials from any oversight when they throw out voters’ signatures on petitions for a recall, initiative or referendum.

The proposed law is Senate Bill 1441, introduced by Sen. Ben Allen, D-El Segundo. Under current law, if a recall, initiative or referendum is determined to have an insufficient number of valid signatures, the proponents have the right to review rejected signatures and the reason for the rejection. The review must begin promptly, but there’s no time limit to complete it, and there’s no fee.

SB 1441 would slam a 60-day time limit on the review process and require the proponents of the measure to pay, in advance, daily, whatever the county declares to be the cost of staff and equipment needed to review signatures.

This bill is sponsored by the County of Los Angeles and was prompted by the fact that proponents of the petition to recall Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon tried for about 14 months to review almost 200,000 signatures rejected as invalid. But it was L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan who blocked, delayed and impeded the signature review process.

On July 6, 2022, the Committee to Recall D.A. George Gascon turned in 715,833 signatures on recall petitions, 148,966 more than the 566,857 required. By law, the number of signatures required to qualify a recall of a county official is 10% of the number of registered voters in the county as of the most recent report of voter registration filed with the Secretary of State, which was dated January 4, 2022.

With a staff of roughly 400 workers, mostly temporary employees, the county disqualified 88,464 signatures as not registered to vote, 43,593 as duplicates, 32,187 for having a different address, 9,490 for a mismatched signature, and thousands more for various other reasons. In a press release on August 15, 2022, the Registrar’s office announced the rejection of 195,783 signatures, leaving the recall about 46,000 short of qualifying for the ballot.

The proponents exercised their right to review the rejected signatures, but Logan’s office told them they could examine signatures only three days a week between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. The number of volunteers they could bring was limited to 14, and they were given access to only seven computer workstations, operated by the Registrar’s staff.

The review of signatures began in September, and by October the proponents were asking a judge for relief from what they said were the county’s arbitrary and capricious restrictions, unreasonably slowing the process of reviewing rejected signatures. The judge agreed with the proponents that the county had to provide more resources and availability so the work could get done. Logan appealed the ruling, delaying everything further.

By July 2023, the proponents had examined about half of the rejected signatures and found significant errors by the Registrar’s office. To begin with, a Public Records Act request had revealed a discrepancy in the number of registered voters in the county. Logan’s office stated in writing that as of December 31, 2021, “the number of active registrations in Los Angeles County is 5,438,400.” But that’s almost a quarter of a million fewer registrations than the county reported to the Secretary of State at almost exactly the same time, and it would mean the recall proponents needed only 543,840 signatures, not 566,857. In addition, the proponents found tens of thousands of people on the active voter rolls who no longer lived in L.A. County.

The proponents determined that at least 20,587 valid signatures were improperly rejected. Another 5,597 were rejected for signature mismatch based on the county’s failure to comply with current regulations on signature verification.

Though they hadn’t completed the review of all the rejected signatures, the proponents filed a lawsuit citing evidence that they had collected at least 546,234 valid signatures and needed only 540,338 to qualify for the ballot.

However, with the help of your unlimited tax dollars to spend on an outside law firm, Dean Logan was able to battle in court from then until now, running out the clock. This week, the recall proponents gave up, unable to get a trial date scheduled. Voters will have their opportunity in November to vote D.A. George Gascon out of office, as polls have long suggested they will.

Now that you know what happened with the wrongfully rejected signatures, the discrepancies in the voter registration numbers and the determination of Registrar Dean Logan to fight any attempt to check his office’s work, how do you feel about a proposed law that would enable counties to completely evade review of invalidated signatures by stonewalling for 60 days or simply setting unaffordably high fees?

Look up the names and contact information of your representatives in the state legislature by going online to The bill is SB 1441. Let them know what you think.

The California State Association of Counties (CSAC) is backing SB 1441. You may want to call the county supervisor who represents your district to ask why county registrars should be shielded from accountability if they wrongfully throw out valid signatures on petitions.

You probably didn’t know before that the governor and legislature are suing to have a qualified initiative removed from the ballot before you can vote on it, or that the L.A. County Registrar battled in court to forever delay judgment in a case about temp workers throwing out valid voter signatures.

But now you do. Make your voice heard. Protect democracy, for real.

Write and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley