New Political Party That Enlisted Voters Without Their Consent Is Now Suing State To Get On Ballot
This story has been updated to reflect a correction.
Monday, September 14, 2020
Photo by Claire Trageser
A new political party in California that KPBS found was signing up voters without their knowledge or consent is now suing the state to get on the ballot, even though it hasn't collected enough signatures.
Back in February, KPBS talked to 31 people who were listed in San Diego County’s voter registration rolls as members of the Common Sense Party. All but one of them said they had no idea they had signed up for the party. The findings led to calls for state and local investigations, but so far there have been no updates on the status of any inquiry.
Now, backers of the Common Sense Party have sued the state, saying their party should still be on the ballot even though they did not collect the 68,000 signatures required. A federal and state court rejected their argument, but the party plans to appeal. They also want Governor Gavin Newsom to issue an executive order placing them on the ballot.
Tom Campbell, the interim chair of the party, said they had to stop signature gathering because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"We should have been out in front of grocery stores and shopping centers by gathering registrations from at least March 28 to now," he said.
Instead, the party called off their signature drive on March 8.
"We said, no, it's dangerous, we're not going to put our circulators in harm's way, or ask our citizens who sign our registrations to be in harm's way," Campbell said.
Campbell argued that other states, including Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Utah and Washington, have cut the number of signatures needed for new parties because of the pandemic, but California has not.
Before the pandemic, KPBS found that paid signature gatherers working for the Common Sense Party told people they were simply registering to vote, or signing petitions for ballot measures such as rent control, and did not tell them they had signed up with a new political party.
In February, about 5,000 people had signed up for the Common Sense Party in San Diego County, according to numbers from the Registrar of Voters. James Lackritz, an SDSU statistics professor, said based on the number of people contacted by KPBS, it is likely that at least 83% of the Common Sense registrants in the county are unaware they joined the party.
After KPBS's report, San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu said his office received complaints regarding the actions of signature gatherers for the Common Sense Party that were referred to the District Attorney’s office and to the California Secretary of State. State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez also called on the District Attorney to investigate the party.
A spokesman for the District Attorney declined to comment and said there were no updates on any potential investigation. Gonzalez also said she had not received any updates.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Common Sense Party officials did little in regards to reaching out to people who might have been registered with the party without their knowledge. After this article was published, Tom Campbell, the party's interim chairman, said that following the KPBS story in February, the party emailed 9,646 people statewide who had registered through signature gatherers and provided their email address, including 4,000 in San Diego County. Campbell said only a handful emailed back to ask that they be removed from the party’s registration rolls.
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