Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Chances are good that as you go about your business in Arcata over the next few weeks – or even if you're sitting at home – you'll happen upon someone asking you to sign a petition to keep the statue of President William McKinley on the Plaza.
Pro-statue advocates David LaRue and Stanton Reynolds have received the finalized petition from City Clerk Bridget Dory, have published a required legal notice in the Times-Standard, and as of Friday, April 13, are already gathering signatures.
The pro-statue advocates now have an influential ally in City Councilmember Michael Winkler, who was the sole dissenting vote during the council's fateful Feb. 21 decision to remove the statue. During last week's City Council meeting, he referred to the pro-statue petitioners using the term, "we."
Winkler said petitioners are going door-to-door to collect signatures, and will also be tabling at the Saturday Farmers' Market.
Though just 10 percent of Arcata's 9,611 registered voters must sign the petition in order to qualify the ballot measure, Winkler said that petitioners are hoping to obtain 1,200 signatures, since some will likely be invalid
But there's a new twist. The previous deadline for gathering the signatures, May 29, has been moved up to May 1, cutting an entire month out of the planned signature-gathering window. That is forcing the statue-keepers to scramble to enlist qualified petitioners to gather the 1,200 signatures in just 2 1/2 weeks.
The reasons, according to Humboldt County Elections Manager Judy Hedgepeth, have to do with the various deadlines and milestones the petition must meet in order for a measure to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
"It's this weird backward calendar where you try to work backwards and allow the maximum amount of time," Hedgepeth said. She said that normally, an effort like such as the one the statue-savers are mounting should have started last December – an indication of the highly compressed timeline the under which the petitioners are working.
She said the signature-laden petitions will arrive at the county elections office "right about when the June election is happening, and we can't jump all over it and push it out as we normally would."
Once the petitions are delivered to the elections office, if they are, Hedgepeth and her staff have 30 days to ascertain their "sufficiency" via random sampling of signatures. They're compared to signatures on file, and the voters' addresses may also be checked.
Should 95 percent of the signatures prove valid, the office then has another 30 days to verify all of the signatures.
If the petition is certified, Hedgepeth said, it is then kicked back to the Arcata City Council, who must declare a special election and ask the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to consolidate that special election with the regular election.
The last possible day for the Board of Supervisors to receive that request is Aug. 10, but as it happens, the supervisors are taking Aug. 7 and 14th off, so they'd need the request even before that.
So, all things considered, May 1 is the new working deadline for the petitioners to turn in their work to the City of Arcata.
While some anti-statue activists have discussed identifying and even publicizing the petition signers, California Elections Code states that "As a general rule, initiative petitions, once filed with the county elections officials, are not public records and are not open to the general public for inspection. (Government Code § 6253.5.)"