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The Petition To Recall DA Gascón Is Still Being Verified. Here’s How That Works

A man in a navy blue suit stands indoors near a microphone. There are people behind him with masks on.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón speaks at a press conference on December 8, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
(Robyn Beck
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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Update
  • On July 14, Dean Logan, L.A. County's Registrar/Recorder, said his office will have to check all signatures submitted by the campaign to recall District Attorney George Gascón. That's because a random sampling of 5% of the signatures found more than 21% were invalid.

  • That rate would leave the effort just short of qualifying for the November ballot — so Logan says his office will now review every signature. The process must be completed by August 17. Keep reading to understand how this verification system works.

On July 6, a petition to recall L.A. District Attorney George Gascón was turned into Los Angeles County election officials with 715,833 signatures.

It was more than enough to get on a ballot — at least in theory. To qualify, recall backers need signatures from at least 10% of registered voters — that currently means 566,857 signatures here.

But here’s the catch: It’s normal for around 18% to 25% of signatures to get disqualified.

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About this recall

If that happens in this instance, there may not be enough valid signatures left. So verifying those signatures is key to determining whether voters will have a chance to express how they feel about how Gascón is doing.

The job of determining whether signatures are valid lies with the office of the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder. But officials there don't have to go through every single signature — that would be way too time-consuming.

Instead, they're using a random sample method allowed under state law, where it must verify 5% of those names. That’s still 35,792 signatures that have to be manually looked at and reviewed by Aug. 17. It’s not a simple task.

“Essentially, what does take place is that we have staff that looks up the individuals who signed a petition,” said Mike Sanchez, a spokesperson for the registrar. “And what we have to do is make sure that the information that’s provided on that petition is accurate.”

What Does It Mean To Verify A Signature?

To start, staff has to make sure that the name belongs to someone registered to vote in L.A. County. They compare how the signature looks against the signature on the person’s voter record, and if the addresses match.

When determining validity, they can’t consider a voter’s party preference, race or ethnicity. And staff must go into the process with the “basic presumption” that the signature came from the voter (i.e. they shouldn’t assume the signatures are invalid).

In case you always wondered — the signature doesn’t need to be an exact match to be validated (who amongst us signs exactly the same way each time?) The way people write can be affected by factors like age or the tool being used. So staff look at certain visual characteristics:

  • signature slant
  • if it’s printed or in cursive
  • the size, proportions or scale of the signature or letters
  • individual characteristics (like how “t’s” are crossed or “i’s” are dotted, letter formations and line directions
  • spacing between certain letters)
  • how signatures end (like a long tail or large loop)
  • writing speed and pen pressure
  • misspelled names
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The California Secretary of State requires signature verifiers to be trained yearly in the process.

Why Else Might A Signature Be Disqualified?

There are many other reasons why the registrar could say a signature is invalid. These are the most common, according to L.A. County’s recall guide.

  • The signer is not eligible to vote because they’re not registered in the right county.
  • The signer has moved since last registering to vote and failed to re-register.
  • The signer writes in a P.O. Box or business address as their address of residence.
  • The signer signs the petition more than once (only the first signature encountered during verification will count).
  • The residence address appearing on the petition was “pre-printed” and not written in personally by the signer.
  • The signer’s signature does not appear to match the signature on the voter’s record.

What Could Happen Next?

There’s a lot of math (hello statistics) involved in this process, but the outcome boils down to how many of the overall signatures are valid. Three different situations could happen based on the sample.

  • If the number of valid signatures is equivalent to 90% to 110% of the number of voters required, elections officials must examine the entire petition.
  • If the sample shows that the number of valid signatures is greater than 110% of that minimum number, the petition qualifies.
  • If the sample shows that the number of valid signatures is less than 90% of the minimum, the recall fails.

If the petition qualifies, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is responsible for setting a recall election date after receiving the “certificate of sufficiency.” That must happen between 88 and 125 days later.
But given that L.A. County is headed to the general election just three months after the end of the verification process, the recall would likely be placed on the November ballot.

What questions do you have about Southern California?

Updated July 14, 2022 at 4:26 PM PDT
This story was updated with the news that all signatures will need to be verified after a random sampling proved too close to determine if the recall effort qualified.