County begins verification process of anti and pro-arena petition signatures

Downtown Sacramento arena rendering

The county will verify the petition withdrawal forms first so it can crosscheck STOP's signatures. County registrar says the number of withdrawal forms may be a state record.

STOP's (Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork) petitions to put Sacramento's arena financing plan on the ballot next year and downtownarena.org's petition withdrawal forms arrived at the county's offices on Friday, and the county didn't waste any time getting started on the verification process.

According to Jill LaVine, registrar of voters for Sacramento County, the county began the process around 3 p.m. on Friday. The first task is to sift through the 15,277 petition withdrawal forms turned in by downtownarena.org (largely because of Crown Downtown's efforts). The withdrawal names and addresses and confirmation that they live in the district (city limits), and are a registered voter, need to be verified. Then, the county will move on to the 34,000 signatures STOP has and a computer program will crosscheck that with those who wished to be removed.

LaVine said the county has 30 business days from the day the city received the petitions (Dec. 10) to verify them.

"It will be pretty close, yesterday and today we were moving a little slow, but that was trying to get the process down," LaVine said.

The verification process is a tedious one that requires some detective work, especially if a signature is difficult to read. The county has not hired any extra workers to help, but does have 10 people currently working on it.

The dates that the STOP petition signatures were circulated will be key, according to LaVine.

"So let's say this petition was circulated between Monday and Friday of this particular week, if this person was registered between Monday and Friday of that week at that address, then it's a good signature. However, if they just forgot and they hadn't re-registered, maybe they're not registered at the right address; so those dates are very important in verifying the signatures," LaVine said.

So to recap: the person who signed has to be registered at that address, between those dates, in the city and the signature has to match.

Though it's a tedious process, LaVine said the county may get to a point before the 30-day deadline where it could tell the city there are or aren't enough signatures.

"If we get to the point where it would be impossible to get enough good signatures with what's left or if we're to a point where we have enough good ones that we don't need to check any further, that is up to the city and we would contact them at that point," LaVine said.

The county, which contracts with the city for situations like this because it has the countywide voter file, expects the verification process to cost the city a little more than $3 per signature that is verified, resulting in an estimated $100,000 bill for the city after the process is complete. Mayor Kevin Johnson's coalition, The4000, has requested that STOP pay the bill. STOP, however, has said they will not help pay for the verification process.

LaVine has been with the county for 27 years and confirmed that the 15,000+ withdrawal forms is the most she has ever seen, by far (she had never seen more than 100 before). She also believes it is the most ever collected in the state.

"I just came back from a statewide conference and there was not another county in our state that had this many withdrawals that I could find, so we are setting a record here," LaVine said.

As Ben van der Meer of the Sacramento Business Journal pointed out on Monday, there is very little margin of error for STOP's initiative to make it onto the ballot based on the sheer number of signatures turned in and the number of withdrawal requests submitted.

22,000 valid signatures are needed for it to qualify.

The county expects to release some preliminary results of the signature verification process at some point later this week.

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