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California Presidential Electoral College Reform Initiative (2008)

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The California Presidential Electoral College Reform Initiative, also known as CERI, or the Presidential Election Reform Act-- PERA -- was a proposed ballot measure that would have appeared on the June 2008 California ballot, possibly in time to affect how electoral college votes for the November 2008 presidential election were cast. The effort did not make the deadline for the June ballot, however, and was ultimately abandoned.[1]

If the measure had passed, it would have changed the way that California allocates its presidential Electoral College votes. Currently, the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all 55 of California's electoral college votes. The winner-take-all system would be replaced with one that awards 53 of the state’s 55 electoral votes individually to whichever presidential candidate gets the most votes in each congressional district.

California Counts! was the official ballot measure committee supporting PERA. Californians for Fair Election Reform was the official ballot measure committee opposing PERA.

In late 2010, Ted Costa filed language with the Attorney General of California for a proposed ballot initiative, the California Electoral College Reform Act, for the California 2012 ballot that would accomplish the same objective as the abandoned 2008 effort.[2]

Impact of PERA on 2008 presidential election

If the initiative had succeeded, it was widely believed that it might have helped Republicans retain control of the White House in the 2008 presidential election. Bruce Cain, director of the University of |California Washington Center, has said, "It could easily be the determining factor in who the next president is. If the Republican Party can pull this off, its a brilliant tactic."[3]

Under current rules, the presidential candidate of the Democratic party would earn all of California's 55 electoral college votes if he or she wins the California popular vote. Historical voting trends suggest that it is likely that a Democrat will win the popular vote in California. Putting those two facts together means that for Republicans to pull any of California's 55 electoral votes out of the "D" column, the PERA ballot measure will have to succeed. For Democrats, this equation means that PERA must not succeed.

Petition drive on, off, on

In order for the measure to appear on the June 2008 ballot, it was originally reported that proponents would need to collect 433,971 valid signatures by November 13, 2007. If the petition drive extended past that date and California Counts presented sufficient valid signatures to the California Secretary of State by February 4, 2008, the measure would instead appear on the November 2008 general election ballot in California. However, new reports say that ballot measure proponents will have until November 29 to turn in signatures to make the June 2008 ballot. As of November 2, supporters of the measure say they have collected 300,000 signatures with another 100,000 collected but not yet turned in.[4] Supporters have also said that 150,000 signatures were collected the last week of October, and that they have reduced the price paid per signature because signatures were being collected at a faster-than-expected rate.[5]

Proponents have said that they will need approximately 700,000 signatures, taking into account signatures that are deemed invalid, in order to ensure that they reach the 433,971 valid signature threshold.[6]

News reports suggest that this undertaking will cost in the vicinity of $2,000,000.[7]

Since the measure would affect the way the state allocates its electoral college votes coming out of the November 2008 general election, it is possible that the measure would have no strategic significance for that election if it misses the November 13, 2007 deadline but makes the February 4, 2008 deadline for placement on the November 2008 ballot. However, petition proponent and GOP consultant Chris Wysocki argues that if the measure appears on the November 2008 ballot, it will still govern how the state's 2008 electoral college votes are divided, because the electoral college doesn't meet until December 2008.

The measure was approved for circulation on September 5, 2007.[8] Mike Arno is the petition drive consultant hired to manage the petition drive.

The drive was temporarily suspended in late September for financial considerations. The original committee supporting PERA dissolved at that time. California Counts, the new committee supporting PERA, re-started the petition drive the weekend of October 20. It is reported that 100,000 signatures were collected in the first go-round, which means that proponents will need to collect an additional 330,000 valid signatures in the approximately four weeks between October 20 and the November 13 deadline for making the June ballot.[9][10]

Key Dates and Statistics

  • September 5, 2007: Date the measure was approved for circulation
  • November 13, 2007: Deadline to turn in signatures for placement on June 2008 ballot
  • November 29, 2007: Some say this is the deadline to turn in signatures for placement on June 2008 ballot
  • February 4, 2008: Deadline to turn in signatures for placement on November 2008 ballot


  • 433,971: Number of valid signatures needed to qualify for ballot
  • 700,000: Number of signatures petitioners should collect to account for bad signatures
  • 300,000: Number of signatures proponents said they had collected as of November 2, 2007.

Poll Data

A poll released in October by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research revealed:

Support Opposed Undecided
22 percent 53 percent 25 percent

Attack on petition drive

On November 1, 2007, California Democratic Chairman Ray Torres alleged that petition gatherers for PERA had used fraudulent "bait-and-switch" tactics to encourage voters to sign the PERA petition.[11] He was joined at his press conference by Kristina Wilfore of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. Pro-PERA representatives Dave Gilliard and Mike Arno denounced Wilfore.[12] Arno threatened to sue BISC:

"I will sue their board members because they're doing this with malice and no knowledge of the facts," Arno said. "Why would anybody bait-and-switch this issue? This is an easy issue on the street. I got 150,000 signatures last week. That should tell you something."

According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, Republicans also accused Wilfore of having an agenda, quoting words from the BISC website where Wilfore says, "We still need to do everything we can to keep it from reaching the June ballot."

See:petition blocking.

Ballot pushed back to November

Running out of time and money the PERA activists could not meet the deadline for the June 3rd ballot. If the measure is able to qualify for the November general election it is still unclear if it will be able to impact the 2008 Presidential race. Vik Amar, an election law expert at the University of California said that it would be possible if the language was worded right. "I don't see any constitutional problem to that application. Electors don't cast their ballots until December. It's always after the November election."[13]


The official committee supporting CERI is called California Counts. GOP consultants Ed Rollins, Dave Gilliard and Anne Dunsmore are leading the re-vitalization of the signature effort after its early stall-out. Dunsmore has said, "You can’t just fold up every time somebody says they killed you."[14]

Campaign finance disclosure forms filed with the California Secretary of State in early November 2007 showed that supporters of the effort had collected $500,000 in a 10-day period starting the last week of October.[15]. These includes an $80,000 donation from the California Republican Party, and $59,700 from Darrell Issa.[16]

Other supporters of the revived effort include Lew Uhler, a well-known anti-tax crusader in California, and Tony Andrade. Andrade was active in the successful effort to collect enough signatures to place the recall of California governor Gray Davis on the ballot in 2003.[17] Supporters of PERA announced in late October that Darrell Issa had become a financial backer of the effort.[18]

See Donors to California Counts!.

Original supporters resign, dissolve committee

The initial committee supporting the initiative was Californians for Equal Representation. Supporters of CERI included financier Paul Singer, a supporter of Rudy Giuliani's bid for the presidency. In late September, two original supporters of the initiative resigned from the campaign and dissolved the committee. Attorney Tom Hiltachk and campaign spokesperson Kevin Eckery said that they were resigning because a Missouri corporation, Take Initiative America, had failed to disclose the source of its contributions to their group, Californians for Equal Representation.[19]


Because the CERI has national implications for the 2008 presidential race, opposition to the measure has centered around charges that the proponents of the measure are GOP consultants and donors who care more (and possibly exclusively) about the ballot measure's impact on the presidential election, rather than on their undying concern that Californians enjoy the same proportional representation as do Maine and Nebraska in the matter of dividing up electoral college votes.[20]

On Nov. 19, the Californians for Fair Election Reform asked that California Counts! be investigated for bribing the homeless to sign the petition in exchange for snack foods. The allegation stems from a Los Angeles Downtown News article that records a reporters witnessing the act.[21]

Lincoln Brigade

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a group calling itself the "Lincoln Brigade" formed rapidly to defeat what they perceive as an initiative intended to enhance Giuliani's electoral prospects. Because the initiative might, in fact, have such an impact if it were to qualify for the ballot and pass, these Democratic party consultants determined that they might have to spend up to $40 million to defeat it at the ballot box.

The Chronicle says that the Lincoln Brigade implemented a "ruthlessly effective battle plan" to cripple the CERI, writing that:

Republicans may have to confront a far more aggressive Democratic ground game that has revived the old "Clinton war room" philosophy. "We need to fight back and not be reluctant - that if they come after you with a knife, to pull out a gun," said California Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, former spokesman for President Bill Clinton's White House and Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

According to Margie Sullivan, a leader of the opposition to CERI, in the early weeks of advancing their cause:

"We ran it like a military operation. You had this SWAT team of talented, hyper-engaged people. ... It was: boom, boom, boom."

Sullivan also told the Chronicle that the goal of early opposition to CERI was to "strangle the baby in the cradle.""

Bob Mulhoolland, spokesman for the Democratic Party, said when the initiative was in its first stage, "From Day One, we were out on the field blasting everything they were doing - and it went downs in flames in record time."[22]

Members of the cast of Democratic consultants tasked with opposing CERI in addition to Sullivan include Chris Lehane, Doug Boxer, Thomas Steyer, Peter Ragone, and donors Nancy Parrish, Norman Lear, Stephen Bing and Walter Shorenstein.[23]

Courage California

A netroots effort was formed to fight the initiative was Courage California. It is headed by Rick Jacobs (an activist who worked with Howard Dean).[24]

  • The group largest donor, Stephen Bing, purchased TV, radio, and print ads about the "partisan power grab"
  • Sent out 800,000 emails to recruit volunteers, urging them to block petitioners at Arno's sites.

The official name of the organization opposing the initiative is Californians for Fair Election Reform.[25]


The following is a list of donors supporting Californians for Fair Election Reform.[26]

Contributor Amount
Nancy J. Parrish $25,000.00
F. Warren Hellman $25,000.00
R. Scott Asen $5,000.00
Thomas F. Steyer $111,475.00
Norman Lear Trust, Norman Lear $50,000.00
Total $216,475.00

See also Campaign finance requirements for California ballot measures.

PERA / CERI and FEC complaints


On October 1, Californians for Fair Election Reform filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, in which they accused Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani of violating federal campaign finance laws. Under federal campaign finance limits, individuals are only allowed to donate $2,300 to a presidential candidate. The contention of the complaint is that when Paul Singer donated $175,000 to Take Initiative America, which in turn gave a donation to Californians for Equal Representation to support the costs of the PERA/CERI petition drive, this donation was--in essence--a donation to the Giuliani campaign.[27][28]

Other complaints that Giuliani is involved in the campaign include Anne Dunsmore, who until September was Giuliani’s deputy campaign manager in charge for fundraising, recently took over money chores for the ballot measure.

The link to Giuliani's campaign grew stronger when a backer of the measure sent an email urging Giuliani backers to sign petitions to place it on the ballot. The letter, obtained by The Los Angeles Times Dan Morain, is addressed, "Hello Fellow Rudy Supporter!" Its author, Tony Andrade, is a Republican activist who helped draft the electoral college initiative.[29]

Hillary Campaign

On November 7, California attorney Ray Haynes, a former California senator, announced that he had filed a complaint with the FEC, accusing Californians for Fair Election Reform (CFER), its donors and the Hillary Clinton campaign of using donations to CFER to get around federal campaign finance limits, saying--in essence--that donations to CFER were actually donations to the Clinton campaign.[30]


On Nov. 19, the Californians for Fair Election Reform asked that California Counts! be investigated for bribing the homeless to sign the petition in exchange for snack foods. The allegation stems from a Los Angeles Downtown News article that records a reporter witnessing the act.[31]

External links


  1. GOP electoral scheme dies in California
  2. Bellingham Herald, "Power grab resurrected," December 19, 2010
  3. Issa's backing revives electoral-vote initiative
  4. New Life for Initiative to Apportion Electoral Vote
  5. Legal challenge on electoral change
  6. GOP congressman says he will fund struggling electoral vote plan
  7. Controversial California ballot initiative may live still
  8. Secretary of State Initiative Update
  9. Backers of Electoral College initiative return
  10. GOP team revives electoral vote initiative
  12. Mud-Slinging At The Capitol (dead link)
  13. California electoral vote measure won't make June ballot, SFGate, Dec. 6, 2007
  15. Electoral College initiative finances
  16. Campaign contributions to California Counts!
  17. Electoral Initiative Back... With Big Bucks?
  18. California Recall Financier Issa Backs Electoral Plan
  19. Key Consultants Leave Electoral College Reform Campaign
  20. Reporting on $175K donation, LA Times did not mention that GOP is behind CA electoral-vote initiative
  21. Opponents of California Ballot Initiative Seek Inquiry, New York Times, Nov. 20, 2007
  22. GOP Dirty Tricks Campaign Seeks to Divide Californians Electoral Votes, Off the Bus, Nov. 4, 2007
  23. State Dem group played hardball to kill GOP election system plan
  24. GOP Dirty Tricks Campaign Seeks to Divide Californias Electoral Votes, Off the Bus, Nov. 4, 2007
  25. Dems group targets Giuliani
  26. Californians for Fair Election Reform Finance Report
  27. Giuliani focus of complaint by Dems
  28. Opponents link Giuliani to voting initiative, Politico, Nov. 14, 2007
  29. Giuliani allies keep pushing controversial state initiative, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26, 2007
  30. Turn about is Fair Play
  31. Opponents of California Ballot Initiative Seek Inquiry, New York Times, Nov. 20, 2007