Story April 24, 2023

Library Foundation joins lawsuit to protect voter intent

Patrick Stewart, Library Foundation CEO

You may have seen that the Library Foundation SD has joined the San Diego Parks Foundation to take legal action against the San Diego Interim City Clerk and the San Diego County Registrar of Voters (Voice of San Diego).

What’s at stake

Our effort to qualify the Libraries & Parks Investment Act for the November 2024 ballot is at risk. We believe San Diego voters should decide if $40 to $45 million is available annually through a parcel tax to fund essential library and park investments. That is why we are part of the coalition championing this Citizen’s Initiative.

In December, our coalition submitted more than 111,000 signatures to the Registrar’s Office. As mandated, the Registrar examined a three percent random sample (more than 3,300 signatures) to determine if our initiative met thresholds to automatically qualify for the ballot or qualify for a complete count of all signatures.

We learned the Registrar disqualified 1,135 signatures in the sample, far more than was projected by our team.

Our team met with Registrar staff to review rejected signatures and found many were disqualified for what we believe are suspect reasons, including:

  • Signers making slight spelling mistakes in their address (“Louisiania Street” instead of Louisiana Street”) or imperfect street abbreviations (using Mt.” instead of Mtn.” as an abbreviation for Mountain).
  • Signatures were invalidated for date errors by signers or signature collectors.
  • Additional technical questions that need answers.

In discussions with the City Attorney and the Registrar, it became clear there is no mechanism for challenging rejected signatures we believe are valid, registered voters. Unfortunately, our only recourse is to petition the court to seek an injunction to reconsider the submitted signatures.

Our suit goes beyond libraries and parks and the 2024 election, raising broader questions about voter disenfranchisement.

There’s more to the story

This suit goes far beyond libraries and parks and the 2024 election, raising broader questions about voter disenfranchisement.

  • It’s about equity. When applied within reason, a registered voter’s intention should be honored regardless of the measure, petition, or election. The reasons for some signature disqualifications harken back to our nation’s ugly history of using literacy tests to suppress voting. I do not believe that is anyone’s intention here. Still, it may be a de facto barrier to participation in the democratic process for low-literate citizens or voters where English is a second language.
  • It’s about protecting democracy and voter participation. The inability of a citizen-led effort to reasonably challenge limitations to voter participation should be a concern to all citizens. If our initiative fails to meet the number of required signatures for the right reasons, so be it. However, we do not believe that currently is the case. Our petition asks the court for the right to challenge the process and the qualifying criteria.
  • It’s about reforming the Citizen Initiative process. The ballot initiative process allows California citizens to propose laws and constitutional amendments voters can decide. But in San Diego, the qualifying criteria are so strictly interpreted as to make it prohibitive for citizen groups to qualify successfully.
  • It’s about allowing voters to decide if they want to improve their quality of life and invest in the long-term health of their libraries and parks.

We do not take these actions lightly. We realize this will not be a quick process or inexpensive. However, we think it is a battle worth fighting. The reason too many signatures were disqualified speaks to the very reason libraries are central to a more literate and educated San Diego. And, as libraries are a cornerstone of democracy, this effort is worth pursuing because it impacts how we all participate in our democracy.

We look forward to keeping you informed. If you have questions or input, please feel free to contact me.

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Court filing

Voice of San Diego article

More on the Libraries & Parks for All initiative

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