The Repeal SMART voter initiative is dead, at least for now.
The Marin County Registrar of Voters brought in extra help Monday to count signatures on petitions that could force a voter referendum to repeal tax dollars for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system in Marin and Sonoma Counties. At about 11:15 a.m., the announced total was 9,111 votes gathered in Marin. Added to the 5,471 gathered in Sonoma County last week, the total was 14,582, or 320 short of the 14,902 necessary to at least start the verification process.
John Parnell of Novato, co-founder and treasurer of the Repeal SMART campaign, said that had he been more experienced in the political process, the petition process might have gone better.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Parnell said. “... If I had been a bit better a petition management — that’s the most depressing part — we only worked this over two months and we know we could have gotten the number."
Parnell said he would go back to the Repeal SMART volunteers and supporters to determine the next steps.
“I talked to my 4-year-old daughter and she knows what the word ‘fail’ means, now,” Parnell said. “It’s when you don’t do what you tried to do.”
When he arrived Monday, Parnell verified the seals on the boxes of petitions before they could be opened to begin the count at the elections office. Several questions came up shortly thereafter from the workers recruited by County Registrar Elaine Ginnold, such as whether a signature would count if the address was scratched out or not included. The intitial answer was yes, but during the verification process it would be thrown out.
Administrative Services Manager Nina West represented SMART, which aims to build a commuter train system between Santa Rosa and San Rafael using mostly taxpayer money from Marin and Sonoma Counties. Eventually, once more funds are secured, the train system would run from Cloverdale to Larkspur and have a pedestrian/bike path next to the tracks. SMART, overseen by General Manager Farhad Mansourian, recently awarded contracts of more than $103 million for construction of the system, pushing the total contracts awarded to more than $200 million.
Parnell joked with West on Monday morning, saying "Farhad didn't want to come?" She replied that he was not available.
In most referendum efforts, initiative organizers turn in many thousands of signatures more than that are required to compensate for a percentage of unverified signatures.
In the initial review of the petition booklets, Parnell explained to Ginnold some of the problems. “Some people skipped pages, some people started from the back of the booklet,” Parnell said.
Barbara Stout, another Repeal SMART campaign volunteer who came to observe the count, added, “They did all kinds of interesting things.”
Those interesting things included tearing out pages without signatures or submitting only the signed pages instead of the complete booklet.
The SMART board of managers were to determine how many verified signatures were needed to have them vote on placing a voter referendum on the ballot in the two counties. Repeal SMART has maintained that the minimum number of verified signatures would be about 15,000, but Mansourian has said legislation shows it would need to be closer to 40,000.
The Sonoma county registrars office said Thursday that one of two formulas would be used — five percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election (roughly 15,000); or 10 percent of registered voters in the last general election (roughly 40,000). The SMART board would have determined that figure at an upcoming meeting, but that won't happen now that the minimum has not been reached.
“It’s disappointing that we had so many obstacles in the way of the process,” Parnell said of the shifting requirement.