Dear Common Sense supporter,
I write to update everyone on our effort to make the Common Sense Party an officially recognized party in California. I believe you know of the efforts I and many others have been making over the last year to create a new party in California—a party for “the rest of us.” We want to emphasize fiscal responsibility, social inclusiveness, and supporting candidates who are influenced by facts, not adherence to a doctrinaire orthodoxy.
California law officially recognizes a new party when it has gathered 68,000 members. Up until COVID-19 hit, we had been steadily approaching that goal, relying almost entirely on in-person solicitors outside of shopping centers. We had a plan to ramp up our efforts in April, May, and June, because the paid signature-gatherers also circulate initiatives, and the initiatives’ deadlines were almost all over in April. The circulators’ focus would grow, and our cost per signature would fall, after March.
We had submitted 20,000 voter registrations by March. Then the virus hit. The Governor declared a state of emergency on March 1. On March 8, we voluntarily took our signature gatherers off the streets for their safety and that of the public. On March 19, Governor Newsom ordered a stay-at-home advisory statewide.
We have not resumed in-person registration solicitation since. We were right not to do so, in my view, since today’s news reports a spike in cases in California. It would speak terribly for our party if we put our own political goals (however important) ahead of the safety of our state’s residents and our own signature-gatherers.
The difficulty this caused us, however, was severe. The deadline for reaching 68,000 signatures is July 3. Covid-19 cut out in-person solicitation, our only effective way to gather registrations.
We found during a pilot program in September that it is entirely ineffective to try to gather party registrations online. The reason is a quirk in California law that applies only to registering to vote, not to initiatives. Years ago, California’s political leaders wanted to minimize the confusion caused by political parties mailing a physical voter registration application to people who were already registered to vote. Evidently, people were confused by receiving another official-looking card related to voter registration.
So the Legislature passed a law that said if you mail someone a registration form, you have to include in the same letter a statement that the recipient should ignore the new form! We asked the Secretary of State’s office if they were applying that law to emails, and we were told yes. They interpreted the law so that any unsolicited email asking a person to register in a party, with a link to the state’s registration website, must also include a request to disregard the very request to re-register! The link to the state’s registration website is viewed as equivalent to the physical re-registration form. So, we were effectively shut down from electronic registration solicitations.
In May, I noticed that, around the nation, other states were responding to the reality of COVID-19 by easing up their voter registration requirements for parties, candidates, and initiatives to qualify for the ballot. A federal court ordered Illinois to lower its required signatures by 90%. The District of Columbia lowered theirs by 91.7%. Vermont and Washington state both abolished their signature requirements entirely. Connecticut and New York lowered their requirements by 70%. So did Richmond, Virginia. A federal court ordered Michigan to drop to 50%, and the highest court in Massachusetts did the same.
We contacted the Secretary of State’s office but they said they would not follow the pattern of the other states to alter the signature requirements. So we brought a lawsuit in federal district court in Sacramento on May 29.
Last Friday, June 26, the judge ruled against us. He said that “much of California is now re-opened.” He quoted one of only two cases where a court state refused relief, in Ohio. In that case, the court actually said that even during COVID-19, the circulators could have gone door-to-door, sterilizing the pens between visits. We think that’s absurd.
The federal judge in Sacramento also said we could have sought registrations online, ignoring the California law that requires any email that attaches a voter registration form to instruct the recipient to ignore the request to re-register!
We have filed an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and we believe our chances for winning reversal are very good. However, I must admit, I would have preferred to win at the district court level.
The COVID-19 crisis stopped our registration efforts. July 3 is the statutory deadline. Unless the US Court of Appeals rules in our favor, we won’t be able to qualify our new party this election cycle. That would be a great disappointment, of course. However, we’ll keep at it. Every voter who has registered in our party continues to be so counted, and we can hit the 68,000 target by the 2022 elections (the legal requirement is a formula of the total number of registered voters, so it will be slightly higher by then).
We are in this for the long haul. Our goal is to help candidates for state office who think for themselves, who base decisions on facts and don’t take orders from party chieftains. We’ll find them, whatever their party, and help them win.
This autumn, only six seats in the legislature lack an incumbent running for re-election. In 2022, there will be only seven. But in 2024 and 2026, two thirds of the legislature will be termed out. We’ll be in good position to build our effort over those years to come, to create a fulcrum of the reasonable center for California. In the meantime, we’ll build in many different ways, increasing our name identification, growing the number of voters officially registered in our party, commenting on initiatives, and providing a forum to discuss and develop good public policy.
I certainly hope to share good news from the US Court of Appeals in the near future! However, whatever the outcome there, we are resilient and committed to improving the political structure of our state in a permanent way.
I sincerely thank you for your joining us all in this worthy effort.